1000 Books In 10 Year; Vol. 14: Junk (or Junky) by William S. Burroughs

January 10th, 2011, marks the one month mark of my quest to read 100 books in 365 days! So I am on pace to eclipse 100 books so far. But to be honest, I have been picking shorter works so far. But for the remaining eleven months I only need to read about eight books a month (actually a little less). On with the review (this one will be a little on the short side because I am tired today)



Junk is a tour of the life of a heroin addict. Burroughs is a person with a good background, solid family life, and a little more time than he knows what to do with, and he some how always has some colourful people around him. He comes into some morphine and sells most of it, but keeps some for himself to try for kicks, and it leads to other drugs and eventually heroin. It is more like a long article than it is like a novel, as if a reporter went undercover to discover what narcotics were all about. Burroughs does not glorify drugs, and nor does he pass a moral judgement on them. He reports on them as they are, what use can be had, and what problems they cause. The characters who people this novel are interesting, though not always sympathetic, but neither are they despicable. The ‘Law’ is made out not so much an enemy, but an inconvenience, and one that is forever falling behind in what ever goals they hope to accomplish because they have no real understand of the problems they are dealing with.

Burroughs goes through several habits throughout the novel, and is accompanied by a host of characters, and an seemingly ever present wife who is rarely mentioned as the narrative moves along, but it always in attendance whenever there narrative requires a role call, and there is even a vague reference to children, but nothing is ever very clear about Burroughs’ domestic life. It seems an odd relationship because Burroughs sporadically indulges in relationships with other people, but never details his only longstanding relationship. And there is even a entrepreneurial odyssey into cotton farming that seems to suggest Burroughs has enough cash available to him to buy and sell acres of land, yet he is forever scrabbling for money to score with.

The novel works for me more as a historical text, a snap shot, a primary source and a personal account. Burroughs writing is simple, and paired down. The is next to know hyperbole or metaphor, and any literary devices that to protrude into the work do so subtly and honestly. The work does seem like a genuine reflection of the subculture which Burroughs was writing from, and if one is to pick up a work from the romanticized beat generation, they would do better to pick up a copy of Junky and skip Kerouac’s On The Road, which reads more like somebody trying desperately to fill up 300 pages for their publisher that somebody offer a genuine reflection of the world they were living in. Burroughs’ account is simple, unapologetic, and does not exalt the world he lived in, but merely reports on it. It is an interesting and satisfying read and while I will that Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is clearly the more refined and intricate work of the two and displays Burroughs’ full range of talent, I found Junky to be a more relatable text, and enjoyed it on a whole far more than I did Naked Lunch.




If you like this, try:



Fear and Loathing In LasVegas but Hunter S. Thompson: Like Junky, it is a tale of narcotics from one who knows narcotics well, and is living amongst straight-edgers who have no clue. Thompson’s protagonist even gets sent to report on a police narcotics convention. Needles to say, she shows up wasted out of his and hilarity ensues. The tragedy of the American dream.



Naked lunch, by William S. Burroughs: Not quite so coherent a narrative as Junky, Burroughs literary rep was based largely on this piece of narrative disJUNKtion (sic). The prose is more fluid, and Burroughs seems more comfortable as a writer in this piece, but putting together a linear narrative from this novel is a challenge which even those who have mastered Gravity’s Rainbow and The Sound and the Fury would have a hard time with.

Mr. Burroughs was actually kind enough to include a glossary in this book. Here are some words I looked up, and some terms from his helpful glossary of ‘jive’ terms.

Tea head: Used or marijuana.

Wrong: A term used to describe an informer, like Man, the pigeon went wrong!

Square: Opposite of hip. Of course, only a square would have to look that up!

Spade: A negro, or a garden tool, or a suite in cards.

Pigeon, fink or rat: One who informs police… I can’t believe he thought he needed to put these in the glossary!

On the Nod: Full of junk.

The People: Police! Also known as “The Heat” or “The Fuzz”.

Uncool: Somebody liable to attract attention from the Law.

Cat: A man.

Chick: A woman.

Hog: Anyone who uses more junk than you do.

Haberdashery: A place where items used in sewing are sold.

Peyote: A spineless, globe shaped cactus that contain mescaline!

Puritanical: Strictly moral (from puritan).

Yage: A plant reported to have telepathic and hallucinogenic properties, or so it is believed!

Dubious: From the Latin word for doubt it means to be unsure, either of quality, or of morality.

Pantopon: The preparation of opiates.

Nembies: Slang for a barbiturate.

Paregoric: Opium based pain killer.

Arbiter: From the Latin for umpire or judge, one who is trust to make decisions.

Yenning: Variant of yearning.

Tumescent: Swelling, or showing signs of swelling.

Sawski: I don’t know….

Carbolic: See Phenol.

Tincture: alcohol solution.

Phenol: Poisonous caustic compound, or a compound based on benzene ring.

Schmecker: A person who uses a LOT of heroin.

Mooch: From the old French meaning ‘to hide’ it most often refers to one who tries tog et something for nothing, but also can refer to one who wonders aimlessly.

Dowser: A divining rod.

Equivocal: Ambiguous, or leaving doubt.

Tumescent: Swelling.

Paraffin: Fuel oil.

Antihistamines: A drug used for treating allergies. No interesting etymology.

Thephorin: An antihistamine.

Reticence: Reserved or reluctant.

Garrulous: Wordy, or talking too much.

Orgones: an energy relating to ’life force’ and libido. Talk to Wilhelm Reich for further details, though I personally wouldn’t trust anybody whose last name is Reich.

Purveyors: Somebody who circulates something.

Quinine: A bitter drug used for treating malaria.

Indelible: Impossible to remove.

Nembutals: The name of the lion Hercules killed.

Inoculation: From two Latin words, the first meaning past, the second meaning eye or bud. It means to treat one with to prevent illness.

Peristalsis: Muscle contractions.

Inferred: Conclude something from reasoning.

Amoeboid: To move like a single-celled organism.

Crustacean: From the Latin for shell, means a shelled animal.

Dionin: My google search found me many articles with “Celine Dion in” within the headlines…. There were also some that said something about hydrochloride or something… I’ll let you do the rest of the research.

Centavo: Common unit of currency.

Incipient: Beginning to develop, from the Latin to undertake.

Slovenly: A term used to describe one who is not concerned with social standard of hygiene. Do not expect smiles if you choose to use this word to describe a co-worker or stranger on the street.

Malingerer: To feign illness (in this context with the hope of getting a script for some M – that means morphine in jive).

Portentously: Significant, pompous, amazing!

Caulking: To stop something up, like a need, with your thick coagulating blood.

Preposterous: Outrageous! Absurd!

Inveterate: Habitual.

Viscera: Internal organs.

Phosphorescence: Continued emission of light without heat.

Jostling: To deliberately knock into somebody.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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