In this personal narrative—part lyrical memoir and part philosophical inquiry—about a condition that is on the rise, Benjamin treats insomnia as an experience, not a disorder, and traces its influences on the arts and sciences throughout history as well as on her own life.
Benjamin’s impassioned and elegant memoir is not just an intimate account of a disorder for which there is still no straightforward cure, but a defiant celebration of its paradoxical potential ... Fittingly for a meditation on a disrupted process, her method is fragmentary, hurtling from thought to thought ... Her key idea, approached via detours into history, philosophy and art, is that the inability to sleep is not just a symptom of an underlying pathology, but an existential experience that can give us fresh insights into the nature of creativity and love ... This provocative, at times anguished book has by the end completely overthrown our expectations by repositioning insomnia as a form of resistance, linked to the author’s own freedom to create. We want her to get some sleep, but even more than that, we want her to go on writing.
Marina Benjamin, a memoirist and an editor at Aeon magazine, has produced an insomniac’s ideal sleep aid—and that’s a compliment ... For sleepless readers familiar with the feeling of being trapped in anxious ruts, Benjamin’s celebration of mind wandering as 'fleet and light and connective' may at times sound strained. But if her roaming induces fatigue now and then, her 'border-crossing bravery' and curiosity prove highly contagious. Either way, her slim book is what the doctor ordered.
This would be a terrible thing to say about most books but, in this case, it might actually be a compliment: I kept falling asleep reading Marina Benjamin's Insomnia. I wasn't so much bored as somehow soothed by her velvety ruminations on night wakefulness, which run on, unbroken by chapters, with lots of airy white space between paragraphs. Awash in the comfort of a kindred soul, I relaxed enough to be lulled into sleep ... Benjamin's book is more impressionistic than scientific: Don't look here for an explanation of the chemistry or biology of nocturnal wakefulness.