Category: Books

Insomniac City

I used to read close to a hundred books (not related to work) a year. I haven’t done that in a while. This year I have decided to remedy that by at least committing to reading one book a week (#1bookaweek). I promised myself to start in January, and look here, it is already March. So to read at least 52 books this year, I am going to need to pick up the pace. No worries, this girl likes a challenge. To make things more interesting, I am committing to also briefly reviewing every book I read. Perhaps not “reviewing” as much as writing a few scribbles to summarize my reading.

I am happy that the first book in my reading adventure is Insomniac City by Bill Hayes. A page turner that I finished reading at the cabin in a single sitting.

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
Insomniac City is:
A celebration of love, life and loss.
A love letter to New York City.
A love letter to Oliver Sacks.

After the death of his partner of sixteen years, Bill Hayes leaves San Francisco and moves to New York. Bill Hayes is a writer, photographer and insomniac. Seeking a fresh start in New York, he is rewarded by a city that never sleeps.

Hayes writes:
“If New York were a patient, it would be diagnosed with agrypnia excitata, a rare genetic condition characterized by insomnia, nervous energy, constant twitching, and dream enactment – an apt description of a city that never sleeps, a place where once comes to reinvent himself.

And reinvent himself, he did. He fell in love with New York City and then Oliver Sacks. Yes, the Dr. Oliver Sacks (I am a life long admirer!). Alongside the portrait of New York, Hayes paints a portrait of Oliver Sacks. We catch glimpses of his daily life: he writes with a fountain pen and has never used a mobile device. Has never emailed or texted (how is that possible!). He calls Hayes’ iPhone a “communicator”, he has no clue who Michael Jackson was and carries the periodic table in his wallet.

Told through notes and journal entries, Insomniac City is a book that you will devour in a single sitting. But perhaps you should press pause, and prolong your reading adventure.

Haywes writes:
I suppose it’s a cliché to say you’re glad to be alive, that life is short, but to say you’re glad to be not dead requires a specific intimacy with loss that comes only with age or deep experience. One has to know not simply what dying is like, but to know death itself, in all its absoluteness.

After all, there are many ways to die — peacefully, violently, suddenly, slowly, happily, unhappily, too soon. But to be dead — one either is or isn’t.

The same cannot be said of aliveness, of which there are countless degrees. One can be alive but half-asleep or half-noticing as the years fly, no matter how fully oxygenated the blood and brain or how steadily the heart beats. Fortunately, this is a reversible condition. One can learn to be alert to the extraordinary and press pause — to memorize moments of the everyday.



Good bye Dr. Oliver Sacks, we miss you!

Photograph by Bill Hayes.

They didn’t know there were limits on what men could do

The 1924 Everest expedition team, with (rear left and second left) Sandy Irvine and George Mallory, whose deaths left an enduring mystery. Photograph: The Times/Camera Press Digital

Into the silence is a magnificent account of the British assaults on Everest in the 1920s puts Mallory’s adventures in the context of war and imperialism. It took 12 years to research and write.

So we went to San Francisco

Under the Sun, The letters of Bruce Chatwin

So we went to San Francisco which is so unlike anything else in the US it doesn’t really bear thinking about. it’s utterly light-weight and sugary with no sense of purpose or depth. The people are overcome with an incurable frivolity whenever they set foot in it. This doesn’t mean that one couldn’t live here. In fact I think one could easily, preferably with something equally frivolous to do.

Double life

“Ah, I see,” says George, “reporting for duty. It begins already, your double life.” He smiles and drains his cocktail.

“That is what you’re proposing, you realize?” he continues. “A double life. A divided existence, schismatic even. Let me give you a bit of advice about such endeavors: they are even trickier than they look. You must be careful. One half is always threatening to swallow the other, to consume it, to wipe it out. Sometimes a double existence is more than impractical; it is fundamentally an impossible feat- a folly- and in the end you may have to give one side up.”

Your brain

The three-pound organ in your skull – with its pink consistency of Jell-o – is an alien kind of computational material. It is composed of miniaturized, self-configuring parts, and it vastly outstrips anything we’ve dreamt of building.” David Eagleman.

Bye Bye Nicaragua. Hello Toronto. Weekend reading (late)

I am back after a few weeks of surfing, running and a visit to Nicaragua. Photos to come very soon, but you can get started here.

Leila Have you ever done a daily mug shot for a year, a few months or weeks? I got curious a while back and started it but quickly dropped it – you know how it goes, no time for anything! But this time around I am combining it with my running, so almost every time I get out there I will capture a shot. Daily.

What I have been reading:

Running Man

What_I_Talk_AboutMurakami runs six miles a day, six days a week.

(via The New York Times) In the style of Albert Camus — who claimed that much of what he knew about morality and duty he learned from soccer — Murakami believes that “most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day.” Specifically, he believes that writing requires, in order of priority, talent, focus and endurance — all of which find their complements in the habit of running.

Murakami’s latest book is really not that great but I forgive him since I am such a big fan… but his choice of music for running? oh lord“It’s not bad, but it’s sort of ordinary and doesn’t amount to much.” Blah.