Book Review: Bill Hayes’s Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and MeInsomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me by Bill Hayes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This would be a good book to read on any occasion but takes on more resonance if you have a connection with New York City, or happen to choose it to read while travelling in New York City, as I did.

Because of the advance publicity, I thought that there might be more of a focus on Bill’s relationship with Oliver Sacks, and certainly, that is a thread that runs through the book, honest and sweet anecdotes and recall of their meeting, relationship and Sacks’s death. While it provides a story and narrative, Hayes doesn’t seem to be trying to do more then share these moments of their life together. It is obvious that Hayes delights in Sacks’s originality and intellect but it doesn’t feel like there is mythmaking or elevation here. Similarly, for an autobiography of sorts, there seems to be little ego involved; we get to know Hayes, certainly, but, as it seems he is likely to do in real-life, he often shifts the focus away from himself.

As large a part of the book is a love letter to New York City, as we follow Hayes in his conversations on subways rides, and his various photo-taking adventures, as well as people in the neighbourhood, or other friends. As I was reading the book on my iPad, mostly while riding around subways in New York City, it made me look up and observe the people around me and wonder at their stories, and feel engaged with and amused by the city and its citizens.

My only quibble is that occasionally Hayes described taking a photo which wasn’t one of the many included in the book; I suppose I’ll have to search around his website!

But otherwise, I thought this was a lovely and beautiful book: more than just enjoyable, there were many moments simple and profound. I felt as a reader lucky to have them shared with me.

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