If you are an Oliver Sacks’ fan (how could you not be?), you’ll be delighted with this new book.
It is a memoir and diary by the man Sacks came to love at the age of 75 and the man with whom he shared the last years of his life. Don’t be concerned that it might be an invasion of privacy. It is done in such a lovely manner that you can’t help but smile at the parts that involve ‘O’ (as Bill Hayes often refers to Sacks). It is the Sacks that you’ve come to know and love.
You will recognize the man and some of the reasons you’ve been so taken by him. It is the same man who revealed sides of himself never previously known in his wonderful memoir On the Move: A Life and in the articles following that publication in which he wrote about facing death.
One of the engaging qualities of both Hayes’ book and its window into many private moments with Sacks is that the character described (Sacks) is the one you know. You will get additional insights into him and into who he was and how happy he was in the final years of his life, including in his death.
Insomniac City is also about more than Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes’ relationship with him, though that by itself is worth the short read (290 pages).
It’s also about someone you most likely don’t know, Bill Hayes, who is someone I came to admire and was glad to begin to know, not only for the joy and happiness he gave to Sacks but for the person Hayes is.
Mixed in to times Hayes spends with Sacks are Hayes’ descriptions of New York City and how and why he came to love it when he moved there in 2009 at the age of 48. If you know NYC, much will resonate, I suspect. If you don’t know it or if you don’t particularly like it, Hayes may give you a new or different perspective.
Much of the book is about Hayes’ own interactions with the city, with individuals that are not usually associated with the city, though many are the heart and soul, I think, of New York. Hayes is a writer (The Anatomist, Fire Quarts, and Sleep Demons) and a contributor to the New York Times, the New York Review of Book, and Salon. He is also a photographer whose photos have appeared in the NY Times, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker. And throughout the book he takes you with his camera as he records ordinary people throughout the city (some of those photos are in Insomniac City).
There is a good deal of wisdom in the book, particularly about issues of grief and enjoyment of life.
Hayes has a good eye for seeing, a good hand for writing, and a good nature for loving.
Check it out.