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.

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