This is the start of James Parker's "An Ode to Being Read To", which is in October 2022's The Atlantic.

I fixed my insomnia with whiskey and audiobooks.

Seriously. I was a terrible non-sleeper, once upon a time. In the small hours, in the little pointy hours, wife asleep, son asleep, dog asleep, when the whole apartment seemed to creak and bulge like a vessel rigged for oblivion, I would creep onto the couch and torture myself with last-man-in-the-worldness. But then I discovered it. I synthesized it: Jameson, headphones. The antidote. The warming, blurring-the-edges whiskey—a shot or two, no more—and the human voice.

I understand the set phrase "the small hours", but I'm unclear on what the "little pointy hours" is doing here. From context I assume it refers to the same stretch of time, but why add this extra descriptor at all? Additionally, what makes the hours "little" and "pointy" - basically, why this specific descriptor, if Parker was already adding a second one? Upon a quick search the only instances of "little pointy hours" are references to this piece.

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    Uncomfortably sharp, prickly, single digits? Oct 3, 2022 at 10:29
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    The prickly-looking raised hands of a clock? Oct 5, 2022 at 22:23
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    If you have an answer, put it in the answer section. If you have nothing but a wild guess, please stop pinging me with comments. (There are some which are deleted)
    – bobble
    Oct 5, 2022 at 23:35

1 Answer 1


This phrase serves as a metaphor for the time just before dawn when he felt most alone and awakened from insomnia bouts:

"...in the small hours, in the little pointy hours..." The use of this poetic device cleverly juxtaposes seeming opposites—the monosyllabic word "small" suggests softness or fragility while its counterpart verb "pointy" implies sharpness—which can be likened to Parker's state during these late-night moments. The combination produces vivid imagery that evokes emotions such as sadness and fatigue associated with staying awake until exceedingly early in the morning, but also possibly hope by expressing feelings associated with finding solace through books read aloud at those times. Therefore, it could be argued that the writing technique employed here offers further insight into how such experiences are deeply entwined within our own lives, even beyond what words alone may convey. So, when Parker says, "little pointy hours," he is emphasizing and making his experience more personal.

In addition, by including this phrase, Parker also alludes to the concept of time passing slowly during these late-night hours. The use of "hours" instead of a more general term such as "time" creates an urgency and reinforces that feeling because it implies, he is counting down until relief arrives just before sunrise.

The small (and yet pointy) hours imply something about how excruciatingly long each night can last for someone who suffers from insomnia; it may take forever for those little slices between sleep intervals—those nearly undetectable shards in which new moments stretch themselves like thin pieces of dough atop one another—to end. Therefore, when combined with the imagery already offered through his description here, Parker's juxta positioning effectively conveys both negative aspects associated with psychological distress resulting from chronic sleeplessness while suggesting hopeful possibilities found within books read aloud at daybreak could offer some sort of solace or even healing over extended periods while dealing with uncomfortable emotions often inherent among insomniacs. As such, it is through his carefully crafted phrasing that Parker leaves a lasting impression on readers related to how deeply and personally our own struggles with loneliness can manifest.

Ultimately, James Parker's use of the phrase "little pointy hours" in his Ode to Being Read To serves as an effective metaphor that conveys deep emotions associated with not just insomnia but extended periods dealing with difficult feelings linked to being lonely and without comfort. Through the type of figurative language presented here, readers can better understand why reading aloud to someone suffering from sleeplessness may offer genuine solace or even healing over time. By utilizing these poetic devices throughout his work, he is also able to cleverly communicate an emotional depth that words alone may not be capable of conveying.

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