Acquainted with the Night
, by Christopher Dewdney, is a book of nonfiction inspired by Robert Frost’s poem of the same title. The full title of Dewdney’s book is Acquainted with the Night: Excursions through the World After Dark
. It’s also known as Acquainted with the Night: A Celebration of the Dark Hours
. First published in 2004, the book is broken up into fourteen chapters, each representing one hour of darkness, from six o’clock in the evening until five o’clock in the morning. Each chapter’s essays center around a theme particular to that chapter. Acquainted with the Night
was a finalist for the 2004 Governor General’s Awards and the 2005 Charles Taylor Prize. It tied for first place for the World Fantasy Award for Anthologies.
The first chapter introduces the book. Here, the topic is the both the mythological and geological origin of night, and how the two differ and overlap. Beginning with Chapter Two, the next twelve chapters all represent an hour. In Chapter Two, essays cover the transition from day into night, with discussion of sunsets, the different stages of twilight, the size and speed of night, the green flash, and Olbers’ paradox. The green flash sometimes occurs right before the sun sets or right after it rises. Usually, the green light is a spot visible at the top of the sun, but sometimes, on rare occasions, the green flash can look like a green ray of light shooting up from the sun into the sky. These optical phenomena are caused by the atmosphere separating the light from the sun. Olbers’ paradox observes that because of the infinite stars that populate the universe, the night sky should look like it’s filled with light, but it doesn’t; it looks mostly dark.
Chapter Three represents the hour of seven o’clock in the evening, and discusses how nocturnal animals hear differently in the dark. Bats, insects, and nighthawks are the focus of this chapter. Chapter Four, or eight o’clock at night, is an analysis of children’s literature, specifically bedtime stories. In Chapter Five, the nine o’clock chapter, essays discuss how cities have evolved with regard to night, delving into night clubs, and examining how light pollution affects the city and its inhabitants. Chapter Six represents ten o’clock, and the essays contained here are all about nighttime festivals that occur around the world. In Chapter Seven, the eleven o’clock chapter, essays center around the physiology of sleep, circadian rhythms, and dreams. Chapter Eight begins at midnight, and discusses dream interpretations. Going as far back as Gilgamesh, essays in this chapter discuss how dreams have been interpreted over time, leading up to and including interpretations by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Calvin Hall. Nightmares, especially those that cause sudden unexplained death syndrome (most commonly in Asian males ages 20 to 49 years), are also discussed in this chapter.
In Chapter Nine, the one o’clock chapter, literary and mythological personifications are discussed. The two o’clock chapter—Chapter Ten—is a collection of legends and stories about the moon and the constellations. Chapter Eleven, or three o’clock, is about insomnia. Touring places with long nights is the focus of the four o’clock chapter, Chapter Twelve. The north and south poles, caves, and cities like Las Vegas are the central focus of these essays. In the thirteenth chapter, which represents five o’clock in the morning, the essays focus on how night is represented in art—particularly in film, music, and paintings. The last chapter, Chapter Fourteen, is not associated with a particular hour. Here, Dewdney turns his focus to sunrises and sunsets, comparing and contrasting them and recollecting some of the most memorable he’s seen.
The content of Acquainted with the Night
received positive reviews, with many critics praising Dewdney’s ability to combine art and science and to be informative while writing beautifully. The structure of the book, however, received mixed reviews: some critics said that the book jumped from one arbitrary topic to another without enough of a transition.
Christopher Dewdney is a Canadian essayist and poet. He’s been a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry three times, and a finalist for the same award in the nonfiction category once. He won the 1986 CBC Literary Competition for Poetry for his work titled A Natural History of Southwestern Ontario
. In 2007, he won the Harbourfront Festival Prize. In 2010, Acquainted with the Night
was adapted into a feature documentary, which won a Gemini Award in 2011. Dewdney’s other nonfiction works include The Immaculate Perception
, published in 1986; The Secular Grail
, published in 1993; Last Flesh: Life in the Transhuman Era
, published in 1998; and Soul of the World: Unlocking the Secrets of Time
, published in 2008. He has been writing and publishing poetry since 1974. Dewdney’s father was Selwyn Dewdney, an artist and author. His brother, Alexander, is an author, filmmaker, mathematician, computer scientist, and conspiracy theorist. Christopher Dewdney’s partner, Barbara Gowdy, is also a writer.