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The Adding Machine: Selected Essays

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  829 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Acclaimed by Norman Mailer more than twenty years ago as "possibly the only American writer of genius," William S. Burroughs has produced a body of work unique in our time. In these scintillating essays, he writes wittily and wisely about himself, his interests, his influences, his friends and foes. He offers candid and not always flattering assessments of such diverse ...more
Paperback, 205 pages
Published 1993 by Arcade Publishing (first published 1985)
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Apr 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
It is tempting to say that Burroughs’s writing represents either the urgent dispatches from a social observer warning of impending danger or the ravings of a paranoid crank. However, as Burroughs himself points out, either/ or thinking is reductive, and so if one wants to get at the complexity of his work, it’s preferable to take a both/ and approach, and indeed, while some of Burroughs’s ideas seem pretty loopy, others are right on (that’s right, I started out with a straw man. Mea culpa).

Nov 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2005
The William S. Burroughs Creative Reading Course

William S. Burroughs' book of essays, The Adding Machine: Selected Essays, was culled from a variety of sources, including transcripts from his creative writing course at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

The usual books get mentioned throughout this collection, including Jack Black's You Can't Win and The Biography of a Grizzly which, according to Beatnik legend, inspired Burroughs' first literary work, "The Autobiography of a Wolf".
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
As I mentioned before, Burroughs had a superb voice -not only in speaking terms, but that you can hear it through his writing. It's hard for me to think on the top of my head, who else has that 'voice' in their work. Maybe Capote? But i don't hear it. But Burroughs can only write in one way or fashion, and he does it the best.

This collection of essays are a series of his voice on particular subject matters. He's like the guy who is entertaining at the nearby pub or bar. Kind of cranky, kind of
David Corvine
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading for those interested in the life and work of William S. Burroughs.
Apr 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I recommend this as a starting point for anyone who is wanting to get into Burroughs. This collection of essays gives the reader a view into his early, failed attempts at writing as a teenager, along with glimpses of some of the trauma that he went through as a young adult and how this led to his unique views and style. These essays are not all biographical, as Burroughs also explores some of his idea generators as a writer/artist (such as cut-ups and experiments with photography and sound), ...more
Marcel Ozymantra
May 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though I'm a great lover of the prose by William Burroughs, I'm not a great fan of his theories. He's a bit of a nutter, I guess. Raging paranoia is also a description. Of course his writing is also in these mostly short essays brilliant. Stylistically hardly anything compares to it. But there are two things which really struck me reading this collection about fantastical theories that he believed in:

1: William Burroughs really was a centre of the counterculture of the sixties and seventies. So
Lydia Gurevich
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite
The best advice a writer wanna-be can acquire from one of the greatest deceased writers in history. I recommend this to you, even if you have no desire write. In the end, you will.
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great collection of essays which gives a wealth of insight into Burroughs' perspective on writing and the creative process. There is also the inclusion of several routines that come off more as hit-and-miss, but they are now used to illustrate points being made in some of the essays (i.e. over-population, immortality). But with the best routines in this book, one can see Burroughs channeling his inner Johnathan Swift and offers macabre and pessimistic views of the human condition.
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic Essays by El Hombre Invisible

Tom Robbins has often been called the most dangerous writer alive. Well, William Burroughs just may be the most dangerous writer since Joyce.

In these essays, Burroughs really takes notes and rips into his enemies, whether they be other writers or members of the government. He takes no prisoners. His humour is incisive, acerbic and as sardonic as ever. As Kerouac once famously said, he truly IS "the greatest satirist since Johnathan Swift"

I think Burroughs'
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In many ways, this is superior to Burroughs' longer, fictional works. In the true spirit of a cut-up novel, one can open to any page and just start reading. The healthy variety of editorial comments, personal reflections and short essays in this collection offer a fascinating albeit limited portrait of one of the 20th century's great American writers. Evolution, psychology, scientific advances... he proves himself to be incredibly well-read, with a mind that ventures far beyond the themes of ...more
Kyle R
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
William Burroughs always has such an interesting perspective on everything. I find his approach to writing, reading, language, anthropology, and science very appealing, because it has less to do with any sort of objective truth and more to do with presenting things in a way that simply makes you see it differently; and this new way of seeing it being a form of truth. He kind of proves that there really is no such thing as an "objective truth" because the world is still always seen through our ...more
Mark Holden
Sep 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The adding machine is one of those books I go back to every now and again. It was the first WSB book I read after reading the incredible biography William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible. El Hombre invisible had such an impact on my life that I named my business Los Estudios Invisibles (The Invisible Studios). The adding machine is a great place to start with Burroughs because it is a bit Burroughs "light" in its complexity. Most of the stories give you the sense of his style, without confusing ...more
310515: collection of essays throughout his career, some are great, some are less. always easier to read than his fiction, though i am not sure this should be thought 'non-'. fast to read. unvarnished critiques, loopy paranoia, persistent misanthropy. sort of like an internet-taught crank. sometimes very comic, other times... less. always fun to read...
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was surprised that not a single William S. Burroughs work was ever assigned (or even mentioned) at any of the colleges/universities that I attended. Were I to select a single work by Burroughs that seems most significant to readers, writers and artists, this collection of essays would be it. The Adding Machine serves as both a summary of the author's writings and as an introduction.
Kevin Cole
May 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
As an essayist, Burroughs was no Gore Vidal, with the result that I know I read this book once upon a time, but can't remember one thing about it.
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
First read: 1999.
Reread: 2017.
Brandon Montgomery
I immensely enjoyed this book. While focusing on literature (Both literary criticism as well as his insights on the writing process,) Burroughs tackles a fairly wide range of subjects, including, among many other topics, the ways a democratic nation exerts control and influence over it's subjects, the role of money in government, his remembrances of Jack Kerouac, drugs, law, and science.
It is only in the later subject that these essays fall flat. He seems given to conspiracy theories and
Steven Middaugh
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Topics You Never Thought About...

Whether you agree or disagree, it is irrelevant. Regardless of whether you believe or not, there are interesting topics you never thought about but should have. There are others on the subject of writing for people who seriously contemplated writing. That is you stopped talking about it, and do it. He also recommends every would-be writers to read, if you want to do good writing. You don't read, there's no point in writing. Overall, Burroughs, as always,
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is a collection of essays that I picked up a long time ago, I would read a few put it down for something else for a bit come back and did this for probably a good nine months till I finished it. Pretty enjoyable and the usual wit and insights from Burroughs, lots of literary criticism and analysis of writing/specific writers which was mostly enjoyable, but, less so in some cases if it was a subject-matter I wasn't too interested in. Overall though very enjoyable and nice to pick up and ...more
Taylor Ellwood
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magic, writing
The Adding Machine is a collection of Essays by Burroughs that explores his philosophy of writing, magic and life. I've read this book at least a few times and it never ceases to amuse and provoke thought. This is a good book to start with if you want to get a taste of what Burroughs writing is like. ...more
Joe Mossa
Jun 28, 2019 rated it liked it
I am a fan of Kerouac. I even read two sad novels by Jack s daughter. Burroughs was a brilliant guy and I understood many of his essays. At times, I think I enjoy reading things I don t understand. He mentions joyce and points out how a writer can write a book read by many but understood by few. I feel that way about this book.
Light Bringer
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most illuminating and refreshing reads that I have eaten in ages. Beware - not about math nor computers.
Justin Groot
Aug 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Reading this thing, it becomes very clear that Mr. Burroughs was:

1) a terrible person
2) definitely crazy
3) an extremely skilled writer
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is quite possibly one of the greatest collections of Burroughs’ writing. His nonfiction is absolutely fantastic, and essential reading.
Eric Steere
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is the Burroughs I enjoy most, endearingly wry and academic in this edited compilation of essays and lectures. Topics include range from neuroscience and the ego to literary craft and the nitty gritty of character and setting development; space travel as a means for saving the human race and progressive ecology which would render a regression (and perhaps apocalypse) of humanity; Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Proust and Beckett; the liberating potential (both creative and societal) of ...more
Dane Cobain
Sep 15, 2013 rated it liked it
This should make for an interesting review, although it wasn't a particularly interesting book - it was nowhere near as gripping as Burroughs' fiction. Written over three decades, these essays cover everything from Burroughs' thoughts on 'creative reading' and the 'technology of writing', to discussions about the writers who influenced his style, including Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad and Samuel Beckett.

Burroughs doesn't limit himself to the dead greats, though - he also writes about his
May 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The truth is I'm only about halfway through re-reading this one, but it's already one of the most influential books of my life so far, and this is my third or fourth time rereading it. A friend of mine wanted to open a bookstore with nothing but excellent books once, so he asked me and all the other big readers he knew to make a list of our top ten favorite books ever, and this one was in mine along with Flannery O'Connors Wise Blood and Knut Hamsun's Hunger, neither of which it in any way ...more
Apr 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
A collection of essays as bite-sized and – mostly – palatable as a bag of brand name jelly beans: M.O.B. (Mind Own Business) types, text theft as art, (obviously) cutups, mind control, avenues to immortality, word viruses, creative writing – mostly hinging on authors I haven’t read enough to have a stake in the argument. Enjoyable comparison of Proust’s attention to time, set, and character vs. Beckett’s total lack. Some problems, though. Burroughs’s characteristic misogyny and HEAVY redundancy, ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this book because I admire a time when even the junkies were writing essays on the state of modern literature and literary criticism and such. Still, I find the narcissim with which addicts admire themselves--because they're living REAL life, man, they're OUT THERE, they're not cocooned in, like, the rest of middle-America, dying, like all the other men-in-the-gray-flannel-suits--I find that self-congratulation a bit tedious after a while. Still, I did enjoy it.
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
great stuff. occasionally slips into the hallucinogenic mode of his fiction, but mostly these essays are sharp & fascinating on a wide range of subjects from his own influences & history to meditations on the world at large, politically & otherwise. thoughts on "coincidence" especially resonate, & tho there are some repetitions (haven't we heard this anecdote before?), the ideas of this singular mind are more relevant than radical & need to be absorbed by all. mutate or die!
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William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee; February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th ...more
“After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say 'I want to see the manager.” 268 likes
“As a young child I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.” 81 likes
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