Along with JG Ballard, Angela Carter and Anna Kavan, William S. Burroughs has probably done more to influence my writing, my reading, and my appreciation of literature than any other writer. And of all four of these writers, it’s Burroughs that I have the most admiration for.
When I first read Naked Lunch, it felt as though my head had imploded. I didn’t know what I was reading. I found the ‘novel’ – if that’s really what it is – fascinating, nauseating, insightful, funny, serious, sickening, intelligent and profound. In a way, it was an anti-novel. In it, Burroughs juxtaposed the scatological with the philosophical. It often contradicted itself. It often subverted itself; but those factors were an integral part of its appeal.
After that, I bought everything I could by William S. Burroughs and read the lot. Here’s the list:
Queer (written 1951-3; published 1985)
Naked Lunch (1959)
The Soft Machine (1961)
The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
Dead Fingers Talk (1963)
Nova Express (1964)
The Last Words of Dutch Schultz (1969)
The Wild Boys: A Book Of The Dead (1971)
Port of Saints (1973)
Ah Pook is Here (1979)
Cities of the Red Night (1981)
The Place of Dead Roads (1983)
The Western Lands (1987)
The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (1969)
The Electronic Revolution (1971)
Cobble Stone Gardens (1976)
Blade Runner (a movie) (1979)
The Burroughs File (1984)
The Cat Inside (1986)
Paintings and Guns (1992)
My Education: A Book of Dreams (1995)
A William Burroughs Reader (Ed. John Calder)
The Letters of William S Burroughs (Ed. Oliver Harris)
Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs (Ed. James Grauerholz)
A very good place to start is Naked Lunch, followed by Interzone, then Cities of the Red Night /The Place of Dead Roads /The Western Lands trilogy. I mention these because if you can’t cope with these five books, then William S. Burroughs is probably not the author for you. He’s not to everyone’s taste. Reading Burroughs is definitely not for everyone. The Cat Inside would be a gentle start, but also a bit misleading. Junkie and Queer are very well-written, very warm in tone and form a pair. My Education: A Book of Dreams is also very good.
The thing to remember about Burroughs is that he’ll take you to places you’ve never been before – some of them absolutely disgusting, and then he’ll show you something amazing, and you’ll forgive him making you wade though whatever to see it. That’s how I found reading the works of William S. Burroughs.
Here’s a link to the trailer for the documentary William Burroughs: The Man Within:
If you’re about to start reading the works of William S. Burroughs, you’d better strap yourself in, because you’re in for a very bumpy – but nonetheless pretty amazing – ride. If you let it, his writing will last you a lifetime and you’ll never forget it – or the man that wrote it – the 20th century’s most extreme prophet of the apocalypse: William S. Burroughs.
William S. Burroughs – Prophet of the Apocalypse
© R J Dent (2010)
Tags: Blade Runner (A Movie), Cities of the Red Night, Interzone, Junkie, Naked Lunch, Queer, R J Dent, The Cat Inside, The Place of Dead Roads, The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, The Western Lands, William Burroughs, William S Burroughs