I had really high expectations going into this book, which always leaves me hesitating as to whether the story really can live up to the ideal, but, wow, this book was beautiful from start to finish.
A mismatch of prose and journal entries, Insomniac City follows Bill Hayes’ journey in New York – a life-long insomniac who takes late night strolls through the city, encountering the most fascinating people with the help of camera. He meets the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks and unexpectedly falls in love, facing their last moments together before Sacks dies of cancer in 2015. It is a memoir full of beauty amidst the struggles of grief.
What I loved most about this book was how it wasn’t just about Bill’s own life, but all the people he encountered along the way too. I felt like I was a part of all these snapshots into different people’s lives, coupled with these very real photographs dotted about the pages. The journal entries were often short and some were completely mundane, everyday observations, but I loved the deeper questions that often sprouted from Oliver’s mouth and how Bill was constantly in awe of his reactions.
There is something about Insomniac City that is imperfect, don’t get me wrong. The photographs included throughout the book aren’t the most outstanding photos you’ll ever see, nor the story itself particularly action-driven, but for me this made it even more perfect. It embodied New York in a way that felt like you were living there, with them, at that moment in time, roaming the streets and meeting all these wonderful people and learning their stories.
More than anything, it felt honest. The writing was poetic and deep but also simplistic and care-free. Part of me really wanted more of an ending, one with Bill’s emotional, final moment with Sacks, and part of me still does, but I know that this wouldn’t have made the book any better, because reality doesn’t lead up to one dramatic moment in time. Things end with no defining point. It just happens.
I was lucky enough to travel to New York a couple years ago and I was intrigued to see how this compared with my own experience. Of course, the different perspective made for a different tale, but I loved pinning my own findings to those of Bill’s to create this unanimous New York bubble. The kind of place that lives in itself and apart from anywhere else.
I feel like this book will stay with me for a while, because I genuinely feel like I was living inside it and have now come out the other side. It’s such a unique read and I’ll be surprised if I ever come across anything quite like it again.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5
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