Book Review: Nothing by Blake Butler

Nothing by Blake ButlerNothing is subtitled A Portrait of Insomnia. It’s a memoir about the author’s insomnia, research into insomnia, etc.

The book was a bit disappointing for me, I would have liked some more research information. Also the writing style, sometimes very much stream of conciousness, wasn’t quite my sort of thing.

Nothing: What it is about

Blake Butler suffers from insomnia and in this book, he highlights every aspect of the affliction. He discusses a lot about his youth, about insomnia when he was young, but also many other topics from his youth.

There is some reference to research on insomnia, and on all the external and internal stimuli that keep him from sleeping. He also talks about the time he was awake for 129 hours consecutively.

He discusses internet obsession, the use of sleeping pills, the thoughts he may have when in bed trying to sleep, and other topics relating to (his) insomnia.

Nothing: What I thought

The book is written in a rather inaccessible prose, for me at least. There is rambling, there is stream of consciousness and there are philosophical bits that I understood and liked, followed by passages where I had no idea what Butler was talking about.

Some of what he mentions is recognisable: how your mind wanders when you try to sleep, which particular factors might keep you from sleeping.

I had hoped for some more reference to sleep research, which is a fascinating topic, even if I don’t suffer from insomnia on a regular basis.

This book is a perfect example of literary non-fiction, if you were doubtful it existed. It’s not for me, but if you’re a lover of good, serious, literary, “deep” writing, then this is your book!

Rating: 3/5

I got this book: from the publishers Harper Perennial, for review

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 319

First published: October 2011

Genre: memoir, literary non-fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

17 Responses to Book Review: Nothing by Blake Butler

  1. Cindy says:

    319 pages of being awake? Could make for interesting bedtime reading 😉

  2. I’m curious… I wonder if I might enjoy it since I like serious books. That said, I had insomnia for almost six months in 1996… I don’t need to experience that again!

  3. RFW says:

    Sounds like reading this book would be a good cure – put you to sleep.

  4. Joanna says:

    Sounds like it could be fascinating, shame that it isn’t. I hate when that happens, you find a non-fiction book that sounds so interesting and then are let down by the writing. It’s so hard to make non-fiction accessible to everyone.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Joanna, I’ve read quite a few really good memoirs, but I find it’s very hard to say in advance which way they will turn out for me.

      This had some interesting parts, but I found it too hard to read and understand.

  5. Maybe it was meant to put people to sleep? 🙂 I have insomnia and I still wouldn’t want to read it based on your review, but also because I’m not a real big fan of literary non-fiction.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Lena, I think the idea is to give some insight into insomnia but it’s a particular type of writing that won’t appeal to everyone. Sorry to hear you suffer from insomnia – I hate being awake at night!

  6. Nadine Nys says:

    Normally I like literary non-fiction, but this sounds really boring, Judith. Not for me, this one.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nadine, as Lena suggests, maybe it’s meant to make you fall asleep. I think in bed with nothing else to distract me, and in half-hour sessions, I would possibly find it easier to read than the way I did, at evenings, for longer stretches.

  7. Leslie says:

    Although the topic interests me that type of writing style does not work for me. It’s one of the few that I just don’t like and end up abandoning the book or more likely skimming through all the babble to get to the end.

  8. Athira says:

    I had a lot of hope for this book – they did a great job on the cover and title of this book. But I doubt it will work for me either. I’m not a fan of too much stream of consciousness in a nonfiction book.

  9. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    I have suffered from insomnia most of my life and it’s not unusual for me to go two or three days without sleeping. Most nights I get about 4 hours sleep. I’d me interested in this book but the stream of consciousness thing makes me wary of it


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