A Very Abridged Life of William S. Burroughs

We read Barry Miles' exceptional 736-page Call Me Burroughs: A Life (Twelve Books, $32; out now) so you don't have to. Below, a crib sheet.

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The author in Chicago, 1981.

We read Barry Miles' exceptional 736-page Call Me Burroughs: A Life (Twelve Books, $32; out now) so you don't have to. Below, a crib sheet.

At a house party in Mexico City in 1951, Burroughs killed his wife during a William Tell-inspired shooting demonstration. "The death of Joan," Burroughs later recalled, "brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out."

In 1992, Burroughs collaborated, via mail, with Kurt Cobain on a single, "The 'Priest' They Called Him." The following year, after meeting him for the first time, Burroughs said, "There's something wrong with that boy. He frowns for no good reason."

In order to attract aliens to his house in Lawrence, Kansas, Burroughs cut out a patch from his front lawn in the shape of an erect penis. But the close encounter never came. "I think I am one of the most important people in this fucking world, and if they'd had any sense, they would have manifested," Burroughs said. "It may mean that they look upon me as the enemy."

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