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Junky: The Definitive Text of 'Junk' (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – November 6, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"Reads today as fresh and unvarnished as it ever has."-Will Self on Junky

“Of all the Beat Generation writers, William S. Burroughs was the most dangerous. . . . He was anarchy’s double agent, an implacable enemy of conformity and of all agencies of control-from government to opiates.”—Rolling Stone

“The most important writer to emerge since World War II. . . . For his sheer visionary power, and for his humor, I admire Burroughs more than any living writer, and most of those who are dead.”—J.G. Ballard

“William was a Shootist. He shot like he wrote—with extreme precision and no fear.”—Hunter S. Thompson

“A book of great beauty . . . . Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.” —Norman Mailer

“Ever since Naked Lunch . . . Burroughs has been ordained America’s most incendiary artist.”—Los Angeles Times

“Burroughs voice is hard, derisive, inventive, free, funny, serious, poetic, indelibly American.”—Joan Didion

“In 1953, at the height of American conformism and anti-communist hysteria, William S. Burroughs published Junky, an irresistible strung-out ode to the joys and perversities of drug addiction. . . . Junky eschews allegory for scrupulous realism. . . . More than anything else, Junky reads like a field guide to the American underworld.”—The Daily Beast

“Retro-cool, like something Don Draper might find in the Greenwich Village pad of that reefer-smoking painter he was seeing in the first season of Mad Men.”—Las Vegas Weekly on Naked Lunch

“A creator of grim fairy tales for adults, Burroughs spoke to our nightmare fears and, still worse, to our nightmare longings. . . . And more than any other postwar wordsmith, he bridged generations; popularity in the youth culture is greater now than during the heady days of the Beats.”—The Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Burroughs seems to revel in a new medium . . . a medium totally fantastic, spaceless, timeless, in which the normal sentence is fractured, the cosmic tries to push its way through the bawdry, and the author shakes the reader as a dog shakes a rat.”—Anthony Burgess on The Ticket That Exploded

“In Burroughs’ hands, writing reverts to acts of magic, as though he were making some enormous infernal encyclopedia of all the black impulses and acts that, once made, would shut the fiends away forever.”—The New York Times on The Ticket That Exploded

“Macabre, funny, reverberant, grotesque.”—The New York Review of Books on Nova Express

“Hypnotic; I wish I could quote, but it takes several pages to get high on this stuff. . . . Funny . . . outrageous along the lines of Burroughs’s well-established scatology. He can think of the wildest parodies of erotic exuberance and invent the weirdest places for demonstrating them.”—Harper’s Magazine on Nova Express

“One of the most interesting pieces of radical fiction we have.”—The Nation on The Soft Machine

“In Burroughs’ hands, writing reverts to acts of magic, as though he were making some enormous infernal encyclopedia of all the black impulses and acts that, once made, would shut the fiends away forever.”—The New York Times on The Wild Boys
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

William S. Burroughs was born on February 5, 1914 in St Louis. In work and in life Burroughs expressed a lifelong subversion of the morality, politics and economics of modern America. To escape those conditions, and in particular his treatment as a homosexual and a drug-user, Burroughs left his homeland in 1950, and soon after began writing. By the time of his death he was widely recognised as one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the twentieth century. His numerous books include Naked Lunch, Junky, Queer, Nova Express, Interzone, The Wild Boys, The Ticket That Exploded and The Soft Machine. After living in Mexico City, Tangier, Paris, and London, Burroughs finally returned to America in 1974. He died in 1997.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Modern Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141189827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141189826
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #636,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

130 of 136 people found the following review helpful By C. Middleton on March 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Most serious readers have experienced a Beat phase in their reading careers...or should. Mine mainly centred on the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg with a spat of McClure and Burroughs thrown in for good measure. Through the years ~Junky~ would make an appearance, however the opportunity never presented itself to crack its covers. The book would manfest from time to time, simply to remind me that it still existed. I finally read ~Junky~ last week and it blew me away.
Despite the fact that William S. Burroughs has been thrown into the Beat literati, ~Junky~ doesn't seem to fit. The book is a one off, an important artefact of history - a testimony to an unfortunate human predicament and a way of life that is all too real; and societies ignorance, intolerance and exploitation of the condition, and its continued hypocrisy.
What I found interesting is that nothing has really changed since ~Junky~ was first published two generations ago. Drug addiction is still a 'moral issue' for a lot of people, including the addiction to alcohol. To be fair, as a society, we've probably made a little progress in the last fifty years, in terms of our understanding and treatment of drugs, but there is still a long way to go.
William Lee, a middle class, educated individual of relative privilege, tells the story of his introduction to junk, subsequent addiction and his on-going hellish relationship with the demon. This testimony is not a posing, romantic portrayal of a hip drug user, living an artistic, bohemian existence amongst poets, painters and musicians, all creating great works of art and having a wonderful time.
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77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
Junky is the kind of novel that you cannot read until you abandon all pretenses. Forget for a moment that this was Burroughs' first book, put aside the fact that he was himself a junky, and put your personal opinions of drug use and abuse, as well as Burroughs himself, on hold. The attempt made by Junky as a piece of art is to honestly and fairly put forward an in-depth look at a side of American life that was virtually overlooked until its publication. The novel delves very deeply into a world that, though many would rather ignore it all together, has gotten progressively worse to this day.
Junky offers a detailed account of a drug addict's entrance into the seedy underworld, his daily search for a fix, the shady characters he must rely on, and the suffering he experiences while trying to fix himself. The purpose is to fully immerse the reader in the world of a man engulfed in addiction.
The hero is actually an intelligent man, who immediately recognizes the risk taken in his experiments with narcotics. He also realizes, although a little too late, the fact that he has become an addict himself, and now needs the drug for basic survival. He is also rational. He recognizes his dismal circumstances, but also recognizes his guilt in the matter, and in no way tries to gain sympathy from the reader. The hero is aware of what he has done to himself, and does nothing to deny his responsibility.
Junky in no way glamorizes drug use; on the contrary, in the sections that describe heroin as appealing, Burroughs is showing the immeasurable control the drug has quietly acquired over the user, distorting the addict's perception of what is happening to him.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Ellis on October 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
Burroughs' first book is an autobiographical tale of how he first came to try heroin and his travels across North America as, to paraphrase the author, junk became his life. To those who know Burroughs as only the writer of Naked Lunch, the straight-forward and precise prose of Junky may come as a surprise at first but, upon careful reading, all the same concerns and motifs are here. Basically, Junky tells what was happening in the real world while Burroughs was hallucinating the junk-fueled world of Naked Lunch. While it may deceptively appear to have no real structure, its meandering style instead perfectly embodies the drug-fueled lifestyle of its protaganist. Its a fascinating read that reveals that, despite beliefs to the contrary, there has always been a drug underground in the United States where junkies remain easy scapegoats for other societal problems. While Burroughs does't condemn drug use, he can hardly be accused of promoting it either. Instead, in the best libertarian tradition, he promotes only the freedom of the individual to be able to determine his own fate.
However, beyond any possible political or philosophical interpretations, this is a fast-moving, informative book with a dry wit hidden amongst the deadpan prose. What is often forgotten is that Burroughs' first known stories were all parodies of other genres and in many ways, Junky is a dead-on imitation of the hardboiled, pulp novels that were also prominent at the time.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mojo Brown on January 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
A taste of self destruction....William S. Burrough's greatest book ever. A hard look into the life of an opiate addict based on the life of the author itself. It should be praised for it's realism and honesty, as it was written in a time when drugs should not have exsisted. Burroughs tells it all, and tells it like it is. Junky paints the sad life of a Junky perfectly, and still manages to throw in the classic black humor that made Burroughs famous. This is one book everyone should read, own, and reread....
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