Oliver Sacks: On the Move
I was reading Oliver Sacks’s autobiography around the time of my fortieth birthday, and I’m writing this post to stop anyone else from making the same mistake. If you’re thirty-nine, less than happily single and looking for a good biography, try reading about Gandhi or Cher or one of the Spice Girls. Oliver Sacks is not for you.
Oliver Sacks, breakthrough neurologist and bestselling author, died at eighty-two, which makes forty a midpoint(ish). The first part of his life is energetic and exciting, full of travel (as ‘On The Move’ would suggest) and anecdotes of a life fueled by curiosity and exuberance. When I hit the midway point, I was curious to see what came next, to see what forty to eighty looks likes, to gain an insightful preview to life’s latter years. I was hoping to find a sign that life doesn’t necessarily slow down as you get older, but sadly, inevitably his hush puppies started to drag a little on the carpet. However, it was the chapter written about his fortieth birthday that caught my eye.
On his fortieth Birthday, Oliver Sacks went for a swim and met a ‘handsome young man with an impish smile on his face’. They got to talking and it went from there. ‘We went to his flat, made love, lunched, went to the Tate, to Wigmore Hall in the evening, and then back to bed.’ They went on to enjoy each other for a passionate week before parting ways. Not a bad way to spend a fortieth birthday. So far so good.
Then my mouth gaped when I read the next lines.
‘It was just as well that I had no foreknowledge of the future, for after that sweet birthday fling I was to have no sex for the next thirty-five years.’
Thirty-five years! If you’re celebrating your fortieth birthday soon and looking to fend off a mid-life meltdown, do not read this book!
However, if you’re about to celebrate your seventy-fifth birthday, this might just be the book for you because, perhaps for the first time in his entire life, Oliver Sacks fell in love when he reached the big ¾ century.
‘Shortly after my 75th birthday in 2008, I met someone I liked.’
Shortly after his SEVENTY-FIFTH birthday!!
‘Billy, a writer, had just moved from San Francisco to New York, and we began having dinners together … It has sometimes seemed to me that I have lived at a certain distance from life. This changed when Billy and I fell in love.’
It’s a beautiful love story to conclude the autobiography of an extraordinary man, with an enviable gift of storytelling (‘The Poet Laureate of Medicine’ The New York Times) that has made his scientific work accessible to millions of readers, hungry to learn about ‘The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’ and other unbelievable tales of neurological anomalies. Highly recommended.
My emotional ghost-writing experience, telling a story that needed to be told.
Even the title, ghost writer, makes the profession sound mysterious and covert; a ghost-like presence swoops in unseen, does the business and is soundlessly away. In reality, ghosts are an important part of the publishing industry, widely used by agents, publishers and individuals with an idea for a book and no one to write it.
Interview yourself for your autobiography. A useful resource for autobiography writers.
If you’re thirty-nine, less than happily single and looking for a good biography, try reading about Gandhi or Cher or one of the Spice Girls. Oliver Sacks is not for you.
Good question …