Naked at Lunch
A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in the Clothing-Optional Worldby Mark Haskell Smith
From naked grocery shopping to the Big Nude Boat, a comic novelist turned narrative journalist lays bare the world of the nudist.
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.
“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)
“Hilarious.” —Lee Breslouer, Thrillist
“An amusing and earnest attempt to understand the appeal of nudism. . . . With solid reporting and scholarship, Smith delves into the genesis of the global nudism movement, constantly enlivening material that could have gotten stale. . . . 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 delightful and informative look at nudism throughout history and around the world.” —Seattle Times
“Hilarious, absorbing and—to adapt Blake’s comment on Milton—a sustained celebration of the invention of clothing.” —Geoff Dyer
“Very funny stuff . . . Haskell Smith writes entertainingly.” —Press and Journal (UK)
“An important book for you, no matter where you are on the nudity-textile spectrum. . . . [Haskell Smith’s] tone throughout the book is refreshing. . . . A well-written, well-researched, fun-to-read and up-to-date book . . . I highly recommend it.” —Nude Scribe
“Gets down and dirty with [the] history of nudism.” —Tony DuShane, San Francisco Chronicle
“Mark Haskell Smith nails the many variations in the clothing-optional world. . . . The book is breezily written, warmly personal, and largely nonjudgmental.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“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.” —Kate Tittle, 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. . . . Haskell Smith’s enthusiasm is infectious and his subject matter will make you appreciate the cool breeze on your mostly unclothed beach body more than ever.” —Claire Fallon, Huffington Post
“[Haskell Smith is] alert to the latest schisms and controversies within the nudist world. His tone is informal and spiced with daffily well-targeted turns of phrase. But he’s also trenchant and commonsensical in his observations . . . Naked at Lunch is a perfect summer read.” —Oregonian
“Smith, a likable American writer who ambles a breezy path between the likes of Bill Bryson and Geoff Dyer, offers up plenty of hilarity as he prepares to embrace this subculture of ‘nakations’ and ‘clothing optional’ environments . . . This thoughtful, funny book is a plea for the middle ground. 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, Guardian
“Part social study, part history of naturism and nakedness, the book is written with a light touch and although it never becomes salacious, [Mark Haskell Smith] keeps the story interesting.” —Frank O’Shea, Sydney Morning Herald
“It is the historical sections of Naked at Lunch that are the most interesting, although readers will understand why Mark Haskell Smith met naturists on their own turf . . . The book could have been a serious study; being written in the first person, however, makes it more fun.” —South China Morning Post
“Engaging . . . [Smith’s] stance . . . is that of a participatory anthropologist. He is prepared to ‘put skin in the game’ by getting naked around strangers, but he isn’t going completely gonzo. The approach works well.” —Kathryn Hughes, Guardian
“Naked at Lunch . . . may be the best book on naturism—and the most persuasive argument for naturism—ever written by a non-naturist . . . The book is a pleasure to read, whether or not you’re a naturist yourself.” —Naturist Philosopher
“Naked At Lunch is the kind of book George Plimpton might well have written if he were still alive.” —Roger Currie, Winnipeg Free Press
“A lot of people will enjoy Naked at Lunch. Mark Haskell Smith’s escapades and his observances are hilarious.” —Myrtle Beach Sun News
“Hilarious . . . well researched, truthful . . . Naked at Lunch will go a long way toward dispelling many of the misconceptions that mainstream, non-nudist readers have about Nudism . . . destined to become a classic of naturist literature. Many nudists . . . will find much to enjoy here as well.” —SoCal Naturist Newsletter
“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
“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
“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
“Hilarious insight into what makes people get together and strip off . . . 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.” —Daily Telegraph (Sydney)
“Throwing both caution and clothing to the wind, novelist and journalist Haskell Smith strikes a winning combination of personal and journalistic narrative as he investigates the appeal of nudism. Though he’s not above making more than a few jokes about swinging genitalia, Haskell Smith does an admirable job of keeping the narrative respectful . . . Haskell Smith’s empathy and genuine interest in nudism and its appeal make this account both informative and entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly (Best Book of the Week)
“Our knight in shining lotion . . . makes some stealthy observations . . . Interspersed with his naked adventures are fascinating . . . glimpses of nudists throughout history . . . Haskell Smith can hit the David Sedaris humor sweet spot.” —Matt Seidel, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Haskell Smith fully enters the land of nudism to find a world peopled by good-natured hedonists, the sort who have more in common with wine connoisseurs and foodie fanatics than with seedy perverts.” —Mindy Farabee, LA Weekly
“L.A. author Smith puts on his reporter’s hat and takes off everything else as he explores the history and sociology of nudism.” —Los Angeles Times
“Naked at Lunch is an absolute hoot.” —Maggie Nelson, Los Angeles Magazine (7 Books You Need to Read This June)
“In the spirit of Mary Roach’s curiosity and humor . . . fascinating and funny.” —Allison K. Hill, 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
“Wryly written with interesting conclusions.” —Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald
“Smith’s informal, often carefree tone serves him well . . . the book projects fresh perspectives throughout.” —Paul Rapoport, N Magazine
One of Los Angeles Magazine‘s “7 Books You Need to Read This June”
One of the Huffington Post‘s 20 Notable Non-Fiction Books You Might’ve Missed This Year
One of the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Beach reads that won’t fry your mind
First I went to the greengrocer and bought lettuce, olives, yellow plums, fresh figs, some cherry tomatoes, and a cucumber. Has a grocery run ever sounded so exciting? Were the other people in the store naked? Yes, everyone but the employees was pretty much as naked as I was. Were there “hot” women and “wellhung” dudes? Why yes, I seem to recall that there were plenty of both. Did it infuse squeezing the tomatoes with an illicit frisson? Did looking at the vinegar selection become compellingly erotic? Not really. Although I will admit I was incredibly selfconscious squeezing past people in the crowded aisles.
My wife demanded photographic evidence of this excursion, but when I asked the cashier if she would take a photo of me she blew air through her lips in that curious French way and said, “Cochon.” Which means “pig.” I didn’t ask for a photo at the bakery, it was too crowded, but I did get a nice little quiche with Roquefort and a fresh baguette.
I hit the wine store, where I had gotten into a lively conversation with the owner the day before.
He had recommended a particularly good local wine, so I asked him to recommend a rosé from the area. Perhaps it was because we had established a rapport, or maybe because he just recognized a good customer when he saw one, but he and his wife did not call me a pig; they laughed and snapped a photo. And no, you can’t see it. You probably don’t want to.