The Bookworm Sez: Curiosity will bring you back to this book

The Bookworm Sez: Curiosity will bring you back to this book

There’s never enough space in your closet.

So maybe it’s time to purge, to donate things that don’t fit anymore. That’d make a lot of room, although there’s one suit you’ll never be able to throw out.

You’ve had it so long you can’t even remember where you got it. No matter how much weight you lose or gain, it always fits – though it’s rumpled now, and impossible to iron. And in the new book “Naked at Lunch” by Mark Haskell Smith (c.2015, Grove Atlantic, $25, 320 pages), you’ll see what it’s like to wear that Birthday Suit in public.

It’s one of those recurring dreams-bordering-on-nightmare: being naked in public. It happens… sometimes on purpose, which made Mark Haskell Smith wonder: why do everyday people take their clothes off to hang out socially with other bare-skinned people — some of them, strangers?

He needed the naked truth.

Some fifteen centuries ago, the Priscillianists believed that God’s power came from the sun, so they abandoned their clothing. In the 1890s, social nudism came to England; by 1907, Germany allowed nudism; the French said Oooh-la-la in 1927, and the first official nudist gathering was held in the U.S. shortly thereafter.

Not everyone was happy about that, naturally. Yes, participants were consenting adults but groups consisted of both genders, which was scandalous. Police were summoned, arrests were made (a California woman served time for nudity in the 1940s), and laws were drafted (in Montana, public nudity can get you six months in jail).

And yet, there’s no denying that some people still get nekkid for social reasons, and Smith had to know why. Interviewing a nudist didn’t offer enough answers — so he shed clothes and inhibitions and visited nude resorts in California and France, sunbathed on a free beach in Florida, and took a cruise ship “nakation.” Smith went nude grocery shopping, talked with the mayor of San Francisco, and learned how nudist magazines in the ‘50s helped Playboy magazine. He was surprised that he liked nude hiking. And he discovered this: when naked, we’re really all the same. The disparity lies in time.

Go ahead. Admit it: you’re curious. That’s why you’re still reading here, and it’s why I think a lot of people will enjoy “Naked at Lunch.”

On the best side, author Mark Haskell Smith’s escapades and his observances are hilarious. They made me laugh out loud more than once; the problem is that I can’t tell you about them, since most aren’t fit to repeat in a family newspaper. That leads me to one of the negatives: this book’s profaneness can sometimes descend into juvenility. That goes double in the repetition that often occurs as Smith seems to marvel at his unusual surroundings. Funny, but giggly: it’s a fine line, but less of the latter would have suited me better.

And yet, I come back to curiosity. I had it, and that kept me reading this slice-of-life book. If you wonder, if you’re experienced, or if you just need a laugh, missing “Naked at Lunch” is a raw deal.

■ ■ ■

Want to uncover more about being uncovered?“Naked: A Cultural History of American Nudism” by Brian Hoffman is a comprehensive, illustrated look at taking off your clothes in a social situation. It’s more in-depth and definitely more serious, but if you’re looking for information you won’t find in the Smith book, you’ll likely find it here.


The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at

The Bookworm Sez: Curiosity will bring you back to this book

More in Life

The Christ Lutheran Church is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Musicians bring ‘golden age of guitar’ to Performing Arts Society

Armin Abdihodžic and Thomas Tallant to play concert Saturday

Storm Reid plays June Allen in “Missing,” a screenlife film that takes place entirely on the screens of multiple devices, including a laptop and an iPhone. (Photo courtesy Sony Pictures)
On The Screen: ‘Missing’ is twisty, modern, great

I knew “Missing” was something special early on

Puff pastry desserts are sprinkled with sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Puff pastry made simple

I often shop at thrift stores. Mostly for cost, but also out… Continue reading

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Would I do it again?

I ran across some 20-some year-old journal notes rambling on about a 268-foot dive I took

A copy of Prince Harry’s “Spare” sits on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion office on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Prince Harry gets candid about ‘gilded cage’ in new memoir

“Spare” undoubtedly succeeds in humanizing Harry

The cast of “Tarzan” rides the Triumvirate Theatre float during the Independence Day parade in downtown Kenai, Alaska on Monday, July 4, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate swings into the year with ‘Tarzan’, Dr. Seuss and fishy parody

The next local showing of the Triumvirate Theatre is fast approaching with a Feb. 10 premiere of “Seussical”

This vegan kimchi mandu uses crumbled extra-firm tofu as the protein. (Photo by Tressa Dale / Peninsula Clarion)
Meditating on the new year with kimchi mandu

Artfully folding dumplings evokes the peace and thoughtful calm of the Year of the Rabbit

A promotional poster for the first event in the Winter Film Series. (Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Film Group)
Movie buffs to debut local film series

This first entry is centered on short films

Mashed potatoes are served with chicken breast, green beans and pan sauce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Mashed potatoes for a chef

They are deceptively hard to get right

Photo 210.029.162, from the Clark Collection, courtesy of Hope and Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum 
Emma Clark feeds the Clark “pet” moose named Spook in 1981. At the urging of state wildlife officials, Carl Clark had agreed to care for this calf at their home in Hope.
Emma Clark: Becoming a Hope pioneer

For 50 years, Emma and Carl had been central to the story of Hope