A vivid portrayal of wakefulness that will strike a chord of recognition in many readers.

A writer who can’t sleep muses on the human craving for oblivion.

In a capacious, lyrical meditation on her elusive quest for sleep, Benjamin (The Middlepause: On Life After Youth, 2017, etc.) reflects on the long nights she lies awake, watching enviously as her husband (affectionately dubbed Zzz) sleeps contentedly beside her. Her mind is alive with worry, anxiety (“anxiety is women’s work,” she observes), “looping” obsessions, and “gnawing thoughts.” Her pursuit of sleep makes her feel energized, “invigorated by the chase,” the opposite of the slow, quiet descent into unconsciousness that she desperately desires. Each morning, deprived of the restorative quality of sleep, she feels like a zombie. She has tried all manner of remedies: valerian root, sleeping pills, meditation, Nytol, and cognitive behavioral therapy, for which she found herself in a group of fellow insomniacs, meeting in a hospital conference room, sharing their sad stories of persistent wakefulness. Drugs afford her a few hours of sleep but not the kind of rest she needs; she wakes feeling heavy and dragged out. Cognitive behavioral therapy requires strict adherence to a regimen that feels counterproductive: She must keep a sleep diary and follow proper sleep hygiene practices. Most annoyingly, she is allowed only 5.6 hours of sleep per night, a number calculated by her sleep counselors. “It is a torment to take an insomniac and deprive them of sleep,” she complains. Benjamin finds consolation and insight from a wide range of literary sources: Greek and Egyptian mythology, fairy tales (“Sleeping Beauty” and the restive princess kept awake by a pea), Proust, Daniel DeFoe, Roberto Bolaño, Oliver Sacks (who awakened patients from the locked-in, sleeplike state), poets Charles Simic and Mary Oliver, philosophers David Hume and Gaston Bachelard, psychoanalysts Freud, Jung, and Bruno Bettelheim. Nabokov, a kindred spirit, “likened insomnia to a solar flare.”

A vivid portrayal of wakefulness that will strike a chord of recognition in many readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-948226-05-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview