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Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me

by Bill Hayes


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Amazon’s Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2017 List

A moving celebration of what Bill Hayes calls "the evanescent, the eavesdropped, the unexpected" of life in New York City, and an intimate glimpse of his relationship with the late Oliver Sacks.

"A beautifully written once-in-a-lifetime book, about love, about life, soul, and the wonderful loving genius Oliver Sacks, and New York, and laughter and all of creation."—Anne Lamott

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 night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera.

And he unexpectedly fell in love again, with his friend and neighbor, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose exuberance—"I don’t so much fear death as I do wasting life," he tells Hayes early on—is captured in funny and touching vignettes throughout. What emerges is a portrait of Sacks at his most personal and endearing, from falling in love for the first time at age seventy-five to facing illness and death (Sacks died of cancer in August 2015).Insomniac City is both a meditation on grief and a celebration of life. Filled with Hayes’s distinctive street photos of everyday New Yorkers, the book is a love song to the city and to all who have felt the particular magic and solace it offers.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620404935
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/14/2017
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Bill Hayes is the author of The Anatomist, Five Quarts, and Sleep Demons. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction and was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, and his writing has appeared in The New York Review of Books and Salon, among other publications. His photographs have been featured in Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and the New Yorker. He lives in New York. Visit his website at

Table of Contents

Part 1 Insomniac City

Insomniac City 2

Sleep: Loss 7

Black Crow 13

O and I 21

On Becoming a New Yorker 24

Subway Lifer 29

The Summer Michael Jackson Died 36

A Fisherman on the Subway 47

A Poem Written on the Stars 58

The Moving Man 67

For the Skateboarders 80

Part II On Being Not Dead

The Thank-You Man 89

The Same Taxi Twice 104

The Weeping Man 117

On Being Not Dead 129

On a Typewriter 132

At the Skateboard Park 134

A Woman Who Knew Her Way 146

Driving a Supermodel 156

Lessons from the Smoke Shop 164

A Year in Trees 180

On Father's Day 186

Part III How New York Breaks Your Heart

My Afternoon with Ilona 197

His Name Is Raheem 213

A Monet of One's Own 228

But 239

Everything That I Don't Have 255

A Pencil Sharpener 266

Home 286

Postscript 289

Acknowledgments 293

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