Naked at Lunch by Mark Haskell Smith: An Immersive Look at Social Nudism

Posted June 19, 2015 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 23 Comments

Book Review: Naked at Lunch by Mark Haskell Smith
Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World by Mark Haskell Smith
Published by Grove Press on June 2, 2015
Pages: 320
Format: Galley
Source: Publisher
Buy on The Book Depository

People have enjoyed taking their clothes off and socializing in the buff for centuries — a predilection that is often frowned upon by society at large. In his latest book, Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World, Mark Haskell Smith takes an immersive approach to exploring naturism and “nonsexual social nudism.” Although not a nudist himself, he gamely drops trou and dives into the naturist community, going on a “nakation” aboard a nude cruise, hiking naked through the alps, and lounging by the pool at naturist resorts. Along the way, he discusses the history of nudism, the state of contemporary naturism, common misconceptions, popular nude recreational activities, and just what it is, exactly, that compels people to take their clothes off around other naked people (in nonsexual contexts).

“The nudists and naturists I’ve met are not kinky freaks and weirdos, they’re not exhibitionists or voyeurs or pedophiles; for the most part they are friendly people who just want to enjoy the sensual pleasures that life has to offer, just like foodies and wine snobs, people who go to spas or concerts or sporting events, and people who stop and smell the roses — basically anyone who does something for the pure pleasure of it. Nudists enjoy the sensation of sun and wind and water on their bodies. And I would argue that unless one has some sort of debilitating skin condition, everyone enjoys these sensations. Nudists are just brave enough or honest enough to go all the way.”

At once funny and thought-provoking, Naked at Lunch is a fantastic read for fans of Mary Roach-style participatory journalism. As Smith goes on his personal journey, he forces readers to confront their own attitudes about the human body and its place in public spaces, all while keeping the tone light with jokes-a-plenty. I’m sure we all have preconceived notions about what nudism is or why people do it, and this book does a great job or educating readers about the reality.

A few interesting tidbits:

  1. Many nudists trace their love of hanging out while letting it all hang out back to their first time skinny dipping as teenagers.
  2. Although San Francisco now bans public nudity, New York City allows women to go topless in the name of gender equality.
  3. For those worried about women’s safety: Single men are often barred from entering nudist resorts, and if they are allowed to enter, they are frequently viewed with suspicion.

Naked at Lunch is a fascinating peek into a world we rarely see (and one that is highly, unfairly stigmatized), and I definitely came away from this book much more open-minded (and even curious) than I was before. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy immersive explorations of offbeat topics!

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

  • I think Tod mentioned this on a recent episode of Literary Disco and it sounded super interesting – glad to hear it was a good read!

  • I recently heard a documentary on the CBC radio about a woman who wanted to see what it was all about. At first, she felt strange and self-conscious, but by the end she was feeling pretty comfortable about it and enjoying herself. I think this would be a fun book to read!

  • My mom dated a nudist once. I always knocked A LOT before entering the house. Or called. Just had to share.

  • I just heard about this on a podcast…I think it was on Books on the Nightstand? Anyway – it sounded intriguing and I like to hear there’s a good dose of humor. I’m almost done listening to Mary Roach’s Stiff (funny enough) and maybe this one will be a good next pick. I’m finding that lighter, somewhat oddball nonfiction is working better for me on audio than some other things have!

    • I know they talked about it on Literary Disco, and I also heard about it on either Books on the Nighstand or All the Books. Not sure which? This is definitely similar to Mary Roach — offbeat, funny, and immersive. I bet it would be REALLY fun on audio!

  • Oh my goodness, this sounds interesting. I’m really bad at reading nonfiction, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get to it, but I’m considering getting it for my grandpa for father’s day. that’s not weird, I promise. He loves reading about stuff like this.

  • This sounds super interesting (especially the comparison to Mary Roach). Also, Andi’s comment below made me laugh 🙂

    • It really was so much fun! (Poor Andi! Although, in theory, I think we should be less offended by nudity, I know I would also be horrified to see my mother’s boyfriend naked!)

  • That’s interesting. While I’ve never been inclined to shed my clothing in public, I don’t really care if others do it. We’d be better off if we stopped looking at the human body in only a sexual way. Maybe then people will finally stop prohibiting women from breastfeeding their children in public.

    • Yes! The author actually makes a really interesting point that naked bodies on their own really aren’t sexy; it is clothing (and the act of removing it) that is erotic and sparks the imagination.

      I think if more people were naked in public places, and we saw the body in contexts that aren’t sexual, it would start to lose that association. You’re right, it’s sad that women can’t feed their children in public because the sight of a breast offends other people.

      • That is an interesting point.

        In PA, where I’m from, we passed a law around 2007 that says that public breastfeeding isn’t obscene, but I often hear from women who are forced to cover up or stop breastfeeding because people are offended by it. It’s sad.

  • Some lovely TMI for you: my folks were basically nudists at home, and so I grew up not really thinking it odd to be naked. Additional TMI: I’m going to a festival next month that allows public nudity and even has a sauna in which, if you AREN’T naked, you’re the weirdo.

    Maybe it makes sense why I’m super interested in this book. 😉 Thanks for sharing—it sounds like a lot of fun!

  • The NYC thing is pretty cool! Sadly, social norms make it so I wouldn’t ever consider taking advantage of that, but it’s nice in theory, at least.