Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World
“Hilarious, absorbing and—to adapt Blake’s comment on Milton—a sustained celebration of the invention of clothing.” —Geoff Dyer
People have been getting naked in public for reasons other than sex for centuries. But as novelist and narrative journalist Mark Haskell Smith shows in Naked at Lunch, being a nudist is more complicated than simply dropping trou. ”Nonsexual social nudism,” as it’s called, rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century. Intellectuals, outcasts, and health nuts from Victorian England and colonial India to Belle Époque France and Gilded Age Manhattan disrobed and wrote manifestos about the joys of going clothing-free. From stories of ancient Greek athletes slathered in olive oil to the millions of Germans who fled the cities for a naked frolic during the Weimar Republic to American soldiers given “naturist” magazines by the Pentagon in the interest of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, Haskell Smith uncovers nudism’s amusing and provocative past.
Naked at Lunch is equal parts cultural history and gonzo participatory journalism. Coated in multiple layers of high SPF sunblock, Haskell Smith dives into the nudist world today. He publicly disrobes for the first time in Palm Springs, observes the culture of family nudism in a clothing-free Spanish town, and travels to the largest nudist resort in the world, a hedonist’s paradise in the south of France. He reports on San Francisco’s controversial ban on public nudity, participates in a week of naked hiking in the Austrian Alps, and caps off his adventures with a week on the Big Nude Boat, a Caribbean cruise full of nudists.
Praise for Naked at Lunch:
“Throwing both caution and clothing to the wind, novelist and journalist Haskell Smith strikes a winning combination of personal and journalistic narrative…. Informative and entertaining …. A witty and insightful read.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“With solid reporting and scholarship, Smith delves into the genesis of the global nudism movement… Smith makes you laugh and think. A thoughtful and entertaining analysis of why so many still want to ditch their clothes and let it all hang out.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A strangely compelling, riotously funny traipse through the world of nudism. Mark Haskell Smith is a worthy heir to the George Plimpton school of journalism. He’s not there to mock; he’s there to experience humanity in all its full-monty complexity.” —J. Maarten Troost, author of Headhunters on My Doorstep and The Sex Lives of Cannibals
“Naked at Lunch is a total joy. Mark Haskell Smith is a fine reporter, a trenchant cultural observer and a spectacular writer. He’s the best kind of participatory journalist; one who stands proudly with his subjects even as he stands apart from them. The naked cruise chapter is a tour de force and a worthy addition to the canon of great cruise writing. Even if you’ve never been nude in your life and have no plans to be in the future, this book will thrill you with its hilarious and outrageous stories and move you with its essential humanity.” —Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion
“Naked at Lunch is insightful, brave and inspiring. With extraordinary honesty and humor, Haskell Smith faces down social and personal inhibitions to experience both a fascinating subculture and a moving personal transformation.” —Jillian Lauren, author of the New York Times bestseller Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
“Mark Haskell Smith turns out to be an ideally curious point man into the bizarre and complicated world of modern-day nudism. If there’s a funnier, more interesting book about being naked, I’d very much like to read it.” —Tom Bissell, co-author of The Disaster Artist
“William Burroughs’ 1959 Naked Lunch may win when it comes to sex and drugs but At Lunch pulls its pants down when it comes to barefaced laughter.” – The Daily Telegraph, Sydney
“Naked at Lunch” is a perfect summer read, whether the mercury’s on the rise or not. – The Oregonian
“Naked at Lunch is an absolute hoot.”— Los Angeles Magazine
“In the spirit of Mary Roach’s curiosity and humor . . . fascinating and funny.”—Los Angeles Daily News
“Smith offers lots of funny anecdotes about his first-person research. As you might imagine, the clothing-optional world is not all Adonis and Aphrodite playing volleyball.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Smith clearly delights in talking to oddballs; he balances this nicely with a pocket history of nudist movements . . . Smith’s tone is breezy, free-wheeling, often very funny.”—Boston Globe
“Haskell Smith’s rollicking Naked at Lunch does its absolute best to make us feel more comfortable in our skin. In his funny, thorough account of his investigative stint as a social nudist, he deftly balances reporting, dry humor, historical context and hilarious anecdotes.” – The Huffington Post, “15 Beach Reads to Bask in this Summer”
“Mark Haskell Smith’s recent book… may be the best book on naturism – and the most persuasive argument for naturism – ever written by a non-naturist.” —Naturist Philosopher (blog)
“Smith, a likeable American writer who ambles a breezy path between the likes of Bill Bryson and Geoff Dyer, offers up plenty of hilarity… By the end of his unbuttoned adventures, Smith has widened his idea of what normal can be – and, following him into that sea of flesh, so has the reader.” Phil Hogan, The Guardian
“I’d love to read the ethnology (and indeed the psychology) of nudism, but for now Naked at Lunch is as good as you’ll get.” — Michael Bywater, Literary Review
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