my first days on Junkie

by uzwi

My first experience with William Burroughs was during a years-long obsession with low-life memoir that started when they gave me WH Davies to read at school. After Davies I went through Eric Muspratt, Orwell, Jack London, Henry de Monfreid & many more lowlifes or people who claimed to be lowlifes or experimented briefly with being lowlifes. I was on to Genet in my late teens. I bought Junkie for eight-and-sixpence in the Four Square “Olympia Press” edition in the mid 60s. It was late on in my obsession & rapidly became my favourite example. Burroughs had me at “made the doctor for a ten-grain script”, p22, because by then I loved any kind of jargon & trade language too. I still own that volume, which had the last really decent cover I remember on a UK book until CBeditions and Fitzcarraldo began publishing. It can’t be read now without falling apart, so I keep a reading copy on my Kindle along with the other lowlife greats like Treasure Island & The Wind in the Willows. I didn’t take so completely to his later books, although I’ve read most of them at least once. Later I got into TE Lawrence’s The Mint; Oxbridge travel writing & its legacy; and, by a different route, into trade and sport memoir. That’s the mud from which Climbers emerged. In my mind, Junkie will always be the contemporary summing up of all those kinds of books that promise to let you into a closed, outlandish world. But something like Tales of a Rat-Hunting Man is pretty good too. & so is Jon Day’s Cyclogeography.