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True First Edition of Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs - 1959, Olympia Press

William S. Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first publication. If you've read the book, did you finish it? Did you understand it? Did you love it, or hate it (as there seems to be no middle ground)? The novel is formatted as several short snippets or novellas, all loosely related, but non-linear, and extremely weird.

It's impossible to summarize the book, or even adequately describe it, but it has legions of fans and converts. It made Time Magazine's list of 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Signed copies are fairly scarce, highly collectible, and in some cases surprisingly affordable.

Supposedly written by Burroughs while he was battling a very strong heroin addiction, the plot jumps forward and back with the dizzying rhythm of machine gun fire, but is fascinating throughout. It begins when we are introduced to The Agent, a drug addict who is on the lam from the cops. During his travels away from the law and toward his next trip, the reader is introduced to myriad bizarre characters. From a hospital with monkeys for nurses to lengthy, graphic and disturbing descriptions of sex acts, to creatures half insect and half inanimate object, the book reads as a dystopian, stream-of-consciousness report of somebody's years of nightmares. Nevertheless, it makes undeniably powerful statements for some readers, and provides insight into the society we live in.

It ranges from grotesque and strange to philosophical and even touching. It's a sprawling, punishing, all-encompassing journey to read, often focusing on, criticizing and satirizing government, religion and organizations of almost any kind. It's not for everyone - Naked Lunch is surreal, inconsistent, and often nonsensical, coarse and ugly, sexually explicit and grotesque, full of language many objected to strongly. With its darkness and (some said) obscenity, it became one of the more frequently challenged and banned books in its time.

Ever attracted to the odd, cult director David Cronenberg (The Fly) made a film adaptation of Naked Lunch in 1991, no less bizarre, creative and repugnant than the novel.

Whether you find Naked Lunch compelling or revolting, love it or hate it, the book is powerful and timeless. Audiences have been fascinated by it for 50 years, if nothing else, as a unique look into the mind of the brilliant William S. Burroughs.


Publications of Naked Lunch

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs - 1959, Olympia Press
True First Edition, Olympia Press 1959

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Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs - 1959, Grove Press
First American Edition, Grove Press 1962

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First British Edition of Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs - 1964, John Calder
First British Edition, John Calder, 1964

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First Paperback Edition of Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs - 1966, Grove Press
First Paperback Edition, Grove Press, 1966

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First British Edition of Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs - 1964, John Calder
25th Anniversary Edition, Grove Press, 1984

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Other Works by William S. Burroughs

What's your favorite Burroughs' book?

Enjoy this feature? Check out Codex Seraphinianus for more Surrealism.