MOV­ING ON

Geist - - Endnotes - —Michael Hay­ward

The photo on the front cover of On the Move (Knopf), Oliver Sacks’s re­cent au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, was a rev­e­la­tion. He’s shown strad­dling a black BMW R60 mo­tor­cy­cle at curb­side in Green­wich Vil­lage, 1961, with stub­bled hair, wear­ing tight jeans and a form-fit­ting black leather lace-up top. He looks as if he’s just come from some biker bar—not at all the im­age I’d as­so­ci­ated with the re­spected neu­rol­o­gist and pro­lific sci­ence writer. The back cover shows Sacks at Machu Pic­chu in 2006: with grey beard and thin­ning hair, in khakis and Nike sneak­ers, stooped a bit, writ­ing in his jour­nal. Be­tween those two cover pho­to­graphs is the story of a fas­ci­nat­ing life; fas­ci­nat­ing not be­cause Sacks led a life of high ad­ven­ture—just the op­po­site, in fact. Sacks was painfully shy, much more com­fort­able re­search­ing or writ­ing about the mys­te­ri­ous work­ings and disorders of the brain: eru­dite and com­pas­sion­ate es­says that ap­peared reg­u­larly in publi­ca­tions like The New York Re­view of Books and the New Yorker, es­says which were later col­lected in half a dozen books (the best known is prob­a­bly his 1985 col­lec­tion The Man Who Mis­took His Wife for a Hat). Robin Williams played a char­ac­ter based on Sacks in the 1990 film Awak­en­ings (the Sacks char­ac­ter is named Dr. Mal­colm Sayer in the film). The film script adds

a fe­male love in­ter­est for Sayer, pre­sum­ably to make the char­ac­ter more “re­lat­able”; in On the Move Sacks writes mov­ingly about what it was like to grow up gay in 1950s Bri­tain, an era when ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was a crime pun­ish­able by im­pris­on­ment or chem­i­cal cas­tra­tion. On the Move was Sacks’s op­por­tu­nity to at last be frank and open about ev­ery as­pect of his life (hence the leather-clad biker photo on the cover). He died of can­cer in Au­gust, 2015, at the age of 82.

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