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Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  5,212 ratings  ·  809 reviews
Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city's incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the ni ...more
Hardcover, 294 pages
Published February 14th 2017 by Bloomsbury USA
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Jen Lee-Olmstead No, it wasn't the first time. Check out Sacks' autobiography On the Move: A Life to learn more about Sacks' relationship history. No doubt his mother'…moreNo, it wasn't the first time. Check out Sacks' autobiography On the Move: A Life to learn more about Sacks' relationship history. No doubt his mother's initial reaction to his homosexuality (calling him "an abomination") influenced his decision to stay closeted until his final years. Sacks had several short-term relationships, then was celibate for 35 years until falling in love with Bill Hayes. The turning point in coming out and becoming comfortable with his love is covered in Insomniac City; it's very sweet. (less)

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Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the most moving and beautiful works of nonfiction I've read in some time, Insomniac City is a highly unique mini memoir and portrait of two great loves of Bill Hayes' life: Oliver Sacks and New York City. And though so much will break your heart, it will ache with gladness too, for Hayes writes, sees, feels, appreciates the simple and complex beauty of human life, and articulately of the mesmerizing urban jungle that is New York, and his book is a celebration of love. Love that can unite ...more
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Insomniac City...such tender, moving, heartwarming/heartbreaking, intelligent writing everything is beautifully observed in this reflective piece of prose a form of ode, a love letter to New York, to a one of a kind love. His NY observations are so insightful so carefully and tenderly described you can't help fall for it yourself. How he talks about O how considered his thoughts are, it is so intricately shared here. Love is so personal, it has no boundaries, it's delicate it's destructive it's ...more
Jennifer Blankfein
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I couldn’t help but fall in love with New York City as I lived it through author Bill Hayes’ eyes reading Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me. He is a wonderful observer and he captures the essence of people through photographs and his stories. He tells us his life journey (after he loses his beloved partner he leaves San Francisco to start fresh in NYC) and we experience his existence as he heals his soul, taking in the sights of the city and finding beauty in his connections with others. ...more
May 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Insomniac City is a slight book, and its breeziness and lack of depth will either strike a reader as charming and flâneur-like or will be irritating in the extreme.

What is called a memoir is actually little more than a commonplace book, including extracts of diaries, snippets of conversation, and notes taken with studied casualness and later transcribed into the text. The low point of this approach comes when Hayes describes replacing Sacks' typewriter ribbon. Testing the new ribbon, the latter
Mar 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves
I didn't want this book to end. ...more
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: repeatable
All the stars. Put ‘em right here.

I did not want this surprising, gorgeous book to end.

As track-stopping as fine poetry, as accessible as anything, this book is so many things. Personal transformation after personal tragedy, done so deftly that it’s intimate without taking one word or moment more than needed to tell the story. Authentic and mature such even the most all-the-feels-averse reader (that would be me for a start) is impressed.

There are art and science, love and loss and fear and be
Louis Muñoz
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"There is really only one thing: To be alive."

A beautiful love song, to Oliver Sacks, to New York City, and to life.
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the most beautiful book I have ever read. For Bill, I will think of words better than beautiful- splendid, lovely, awe-inspiring, extra-ordinary. How lucky for us (the world) that Bill met New York City and met Oliver, the three create a perfect enchanting symphony and sometimes disharmony together. Thank you, Bill, for remembering, capturing, and sharing it with us.
Jenny Wen
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to savour this, but I ended up devouring it. It was magical.
Lolly K Dandeneau
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
via my blog

"Some days, I feel like Sylvia Plath married to Anne Sexton- or is it Anne Sexton married to Sylvia Plath?- but without the depression or suicides.

Just poetry."

This is a bitingly beautiful book, a celebration of life, love, loss, New York and the relationship between Bill Hayes and Oliver Sacks. In truth, I fell in love with Oliver myself bathing in the memories Hayes showers on the reader. There seemed to be an infinite childlike curiosity and
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Please bear with me as I listened to the audiobook (fantastic narration), so am doing this from memory with no material for reference ...

First of all, I want to mention that I have not read Oliver Sachs' memoir; however, I don't think that was necessary. I could see how he came to fall in love with Bill from reading this story. Not that it's self-congratulatory, but that Bill was easily able to accept Oliver's eccentricity, which few others could manage. One of their early dates was to a museum
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Insomniac City is a moving book about the author's relationship with Oliver Sacks. What I loved most about this book is the way Hayes writes about his love affair with NYC, which brought back memories of my own romance with the city when I first moved there 35 years ago. ...more
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite-books
A really tender memoir written by Bill Hayes, Oliver Sacks’ partner, in the years leading up to Sacks’ death. Interspersed with Hayes’ beautiful photography this is a poignant love letter to Oliver Sacks and to New York. Loved every minute of it. 💕
Nicole Jarvis
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bloomsbury
This gorgeous book is a love letter to the author's partner (Oliver Sacks) and to the city of New York. The NYC of Billy Hayes is one I've only caught a glimpse of-- he's the kind of man who can make friends with anyone, and goes out of his way to do so. Reading this book is like getting an insider's look at the city through the eyes of someone who loves humanity.

The prose reads like poetry, and you can tell the author cares as much about the beauty of language as he does the beauty of photogra
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: treasure, favourites
I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit in Bill Hayes. I admire him for his willingness to pause and see where others wouldn’t dare to look, and for his openness to share his most intimate moments with readers. ‘Insomniac City’ is filled with loud curiosity and quiet enthusiasm, brave romanticism and loving sensitivity. It breaks your heart and at the same time, mends it.
This book is subtitled "New York, Oliver, and Me", and really that's pretty accurate. It's not so much a memoir as a collection of extracts from conversations, diaries and events - it feels fairly random. I was a bit disappointed, to be honest - it never seems to do more than scratch the surface of any of the elements of the subtitle. ...more
Christopher Jones
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
You will fall in love TOTALLY and unequivocally with this piece of art, it flows , it’s beautifully written it’s captivating, what more does one want, you will be transported to another realm.❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Canadian Reader
I was pretty skeptical about this book even before attempting it. Coming on the heels of Oliver Sacks’s death, it struck me as an opportunistic money grab on the part of the publishing industry and perhaps on the part of Sacks’s late-in-life partner as well. About 70 pages in, I decided I really didn’t care to read about the author’s romantic relationship with Sacks and not about the heretofore-unknown-to-me memoirist, Hayes, either. A good part of the book is a sort of ode to New York City, not ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
I love when the right book finds you at the right time. I took this home randomly one night, and adored it.

Bill Hayes moved to New York after the sudden death of his partner. He fell in love with the city, and with the brilliant neurologist, Oliver Sacks. Sacks had written to Hayes when his book The Anatomist released, saying he loved it and to let him know if he were ever in New York. When Hayes moved, they became friends, and Hayes became the great love of Oliver's life.

Insomniac City is a bu
Chihoe Ho
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'll forever remember this book - the raw personal anecdotes, the contemplative reflection, the photographs that were the window to not just Bill Hayes' life and the very intimate relationship between Hayes and Oliver Sacks, but also to the soul of New York City, this insomniac city... The city that never sleeps.

"O: "The most we can do is to write—intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively—about what it is like living in the world at this time."" That Bill Hayes has done.
The language and way of writing can sometimes seem pretentious and a bit too tryhard for my tastes, but there are some really lovely moments in it.
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 (p. 130).

That is exactly what Bill Hayes aims for in Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me, which chronicles the joy Hayes experienced with his two loves: New York City and Oliver Sacks. It is compris
Steve Turtell
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don't know if other native New Yorkers feel this way, but I've often envied people who move here. Sometimes it's a long-held dream to live in "the big city," to escape the suffocating small town or repressive family and finally "live!" In Bill Hayes case, it was an impulse move, following the death of his lover Steve with whom he lived in San Francisco. What I envy is the newcomer's ability to discover and invent (the two are inseparable) a New York all their own and fall in love with it. I st ...more
Mike Coleman
Apr 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A lovely memoir by the man who shared Oliver Sacks' final days. It's certainly a treat to read anything today that celebrates intellectual curiosity, love of science, love of life and open-minded acceptance of just about everyone. Hayes captures beautiful vignettes that show in vivid detail what it was like to share the table, the bath and the bed of the celebrated neurologist, author and overall superhuman Sacks.

He also expands his scope a bit with gritty vignettes of life in New York City in r
Andrea Montan
Apr 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I cried when this ended. On the city bus. This book was gorgeously written, extremely readable and wholly relatable. An ode to a city and a man. Even with such tragedy as Bill Hayes experienced, his voice, this memoir, is written with such positivity and exuberance for life. And I had to get out the dictionary on several occasions, making this the perfect read.
Erik Martinez
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
cheers to my lovely friend, amanda, for recommending this. i want to live inside this book a thousand times over. please please please read

2nd read: Felt the disconnect a little more/ending felt more abrupt but this book will remain timeless 2 me!!!!!!!
Michael Livingston
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5. A beautiful book, filled with love, sadness and humanity.
Sharon Metcalf
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Sometimes the characters in books become real to me. In this case Bill Hayes was the author and central character in Insomniac City. New York, Oliver and Me. He came across as an intelligent, engaging and interesting person and I loved the way he seemed to practice gratitude.

This nonfiction work was nothing if not a love story. It tells of the two great loves of his life. He shares how he worked through the grief associated with the loss of his first love Steve who died suddenly at a young age.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm a big, big fan of whimsy. And this book has it, abound. That being said, the undoubted highlight of this compelling (if not too ornamental) story, is Hayes's somehow multi-sensory embodiment of his lover - Oliver Sacks.

As the book progresses, Oliver's gentleness and boyish curiosity develops into a portrayal of a person who is both of this world but also not. We regard his genius not by the numbers or his accomplishment, but his unabashed humility even in the throes of tremendous insight. P
Brona's Books
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My copy of Insomniac City is the rather lush hardback edition with deckled edges. The cover has one of Bill's photographs of the cross street near his home across it, while the dark blue jacket has little windows cut out to see through to the colours underneath.

Insomniac City is part memoir, part observation and part journal. Hayes' writing is poetic and mesmerising. His kindness and generosity shines through on every page. I felt inspired by how he could find beauty in everyday life and his pow
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The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction, Bill Hayes is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the author of several books.

A photographer as well as a writer, his photos have appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Granta, New York Times, and on CBS Evening News. His portraits of his partner, the late Oliver Sacks, appear in the recent collection of Dr. Sacks’s suite of fi

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