Sunday 16 May 2021


Synopsis/blurb ....

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 Epoque 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.

A bit of non-fiction from Mark Haskell Smith with Naked at Lunch. Smith offers up a history of naturism across the globe, or more specifically in Europe and North America .... its origins and roots as well as the evolution of naturism with frequent opposition to the movement in the form of local political outrage and reactionary laws introduced to curb it, both historically and in recent times.

While the history of the subject was interesting, the best bits of the books related to Smith's own experiences, shedding his inhibitions and getting naked. Some of his observations I found incredibly funny....

"A skeletal man in his eighties wandered around the ship wearing only a fluorescent thong, his loose skin draped around his bones like freckled frosting,"

"I wondered how someone could get a sunburn on the underside of his scrotum and then go out the next day and do it again and again. Isn't once enough? Isn't a toasted nutsack a warning sign?"

"I stood naked in front of a mirror and checked my body. What was I looking for? Gravy stains? Some physical deformation that was so humiliating that I should just call this whole thing off for humanitarian reasons?"

"Have you ever seen a seventy-year old woman with her pubic hair shaved into what's called a landing strip? I have."

"The spray-on sunblock that I had so scrupulously and thickly applied had turned my dick into something resembling a solar flare. I could've sent a distress signal to a search and rescue team. Fortunately, I did not get an erection."  

4 from 5

I've enjoyed Mark Haskell Smith's fiction before. Raw was read back in 2013. Moist was enjoyed back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Delicious and Salty sit on the unread mountain.

Read - April, 2021

Published - 2015

Page count - 320

Source - purchased copy

Format - paperback


  1. Those are some funny comments, Col, and I do like a witty writing style. It's an interesting topic, too, and not something you read a lot about. One of the things that occurs to me is how culturally contextual attitudes towards nudity are. I'd guess they're historically contextual, too. Glad you enjoyed this.

    1. I think a major talking point is the separation of naturism from sex. Those unfamiliar with the hobby or lifestyle have a hard time addressing the former without automatically thinking of the latter, which is where the outrage comes in. I liked the balance in the book between the history and the author's own experiences, which were amusing when recounted.

  2. This could be very interesting. Anything that makes you think about why we take certain ideas and customs for granted is worthwhile reading.

    1. Definitely. I liked the combination of history and fact, allied with personal and often humorous experiences.