books, interweb, people, science

Remembering Oliver Sacks

Though I was only peripherally and more pop-culturally familiar with his work, neurologist and prolific writer¬†Oliver Sacks’ was hard to miss these past days, as the creative community began¬†publishing beautiful tribute and remembrance pieces in the wake of his death from cancer at age 82.

Sabine Heinlein’s lovely¬†Swimming with Oliver Sacks,¬†recalls¬†her encounter with a bathing-cap-clad Sacks at a writer’s retreat in the Adirondacks in 2012.

RadioLab aired an extremely touching sit down¬†between Robert Krulwich and Sacks, who had been a dear friend and constant inspiration to¬†the program since its inception. The episode touches on some of Sacks’ most painful memories of love, loss, and loneliness. It’s a tear-jerker.

Starlee Kine reposted a piece she wrote in 2013, remembering the kindness Sacks displayed one summer in the late 90s, when he responded to a letter she thought he would never read.

I’ve begun digging into the archives of Sacks’ writing. To say there is a lot is an understatement. He wrote right¬†up until the end of his life, and a¬†note on his personal site says the latest pieces will be released¬†posthumously in the coming¬†weeks.¬†Face-Blind, published in The New Yorker in 2010, is a fascinating story¬†about Sacks’¬†lifetime of dealing with face blindness, or the inability to recognize familiar faces, sometimes even his own reflection. What was¬†often mistaken for social ineptitude, rudeness, or even Asperger’s by acquaintances, was in fact just a misinterpretation of his difficulty recognizing faces.

Next on my list is his¬†book,¬†The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales,¬†in which he recounts case histories of various bizarre and fantastical neurological disorders. Sacks was an amazing storyteller, and though he’s gone I’m much looking forward to spending some more time with him.


The Iron Queen’s Softer Side

As inspiration for my impending book club selection, Jessica sent out a link a few weeks back to a small publishing shop famed for producing beautiful, custom-designed editions from authors I’ve mostly never heard of.

Started in 1999 by Nicole Beauman, London-based Persephone Books helps readers rediscover early 20th-century novels, short stories & diaries from women writers that have been otherwise neglected and ignored over time.

A self-defined feminist press, Persephone presents a more accessible & softer side of feminism with its releases, all aimed at a modern women smart enough to understand the challenges inherent in raising a family, having a career and embracing the conflicted independence that results.

I was actually most excited to see Virgina Woolf’s husband Leonard among the published authors, whom I’d forgotten was a pretty accomplished writer and publisher in his own right. Originally released in 1913, his semi-autobiographical work, The Wise Virgins, is about a man who must choose between the dull but family-approved girl next door and one of the artistically-inclined Lawrence sisters, modeled after Virginia herself.

Apparently the publication threw Woolf’s family, painted rather unflatteringly, into an absolute tizzy, and Virginia reportedly had her worst (of many) nervous breakdowns after reading it. Drama! I just placed my order.

For the literary aesthetes, Persephone also treats each release as a mini work of art, with unique endpapers carefully selected to fit a book’s theme or mood.¬†Check out the version headed my way, designed by Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell. Quite the family affair. Psyched!