Oliver Sacks, David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max, Joyce Carol Oates, C.K. Williams: A morning spent reading

Friday, August 24, 2012

I had time, just now, that quiet time, of reading the magazines that came in last week.  Oh, the stolen deliciousness of it all.  In The New Yorker, I read of Oliver Sacks on his years dedicated, in large part, to experimenting with large doses of amphetamines, morning-glory seeds, LSD, morphine, and all other manner of neuro-shifters.  I thought of all the Sacks I have read these many years, of the seeming innocence of his beguiling childhood memoir, Uncle Tungsten:  Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, of his great empathy for patients and ferns and other earthly beings. His New Yorker essay delves, skips, and buries time before it rushes, headlong, toward its hard stop.  Sacks had discovered a book on migraines and it had become important to him.  He had a revelation about migraines.  He ...
... had a sense of resolution, too, that I was indeed equipped to write a Liveing-like book, that perhaps I could be the Liveing of our time.

The next day, before I returned Liveing's book to the library, I photocopied the whole thing, and then, bit by bit, I started to write my own book.  The joy I got from doing this was real—infinitely more substantial than the vapid mania of amphetamines—and I never took amphetamines again.
Writing books, Sacks suggests, saved him.  The next story I read, an excerpt from D.T. Max's much heralded biography of David Foster Wallace (in Newsweek), suggests how writing would and would not save this genius.  The excerpt, which focuses on Wallace's early correspondence with Jonathan Franzen as well as his infatuation with Mary Karr, suggests that this book is well worth reading as a whole.  I've always been a huge D.T. Max fan, and I'm certain I will learn from these pages.

In between the Sacks and the Wallace, I found two poems of interest.  Joyce Carol Oates has a chilling, compelling poem in The New Yorker called "Edward Hopper's '11 A.M.,' 1926"—worth reading from beginning to end.  Oates was one of several authors who contributed to one of my favorite poetry collections (a gift from my sister) called The Poetry of Solitude:  A Tribute to Edward Hopper (collected and introduced by Gail Levin). Clearly this project, all these years later, continues to inspire.

Finally, within the pages of this week's New Yorker is a poem by C.K. Williams, one of my favorite living poets.  I had the great pleasure and privilege, years ago, of interviewing C.K. in his Princeton home for a magazine story.  Later, I saw him read at the Writer's House at Penn.  He remains vital, interesting, experimental, and honest, and his new poem, "Haste," is a terrifying portrait of time.  From its later phrases:

No one says Not so fast now not Catherine when I hold her not our dog as I putter behind her
yet everything past present future rushes so quickly through me I've frayed like a flag

Unbuckle your spurs life don't you know up ahead where the road ends there's an abyss? ... 
My first corporate interview isn't until 1 this afternoon.  I'm sitting down to read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  I figure it's time.

(That above, by the way, is my cat Colors, who lived with me for many years.  She's climbing into my bedroom window.  I'm eleven or twelve years old.  And I'm reading on my bed as she pokes her pink nose in.)


KFP said...

Writing and reading totally saves me. Writing keeps the dark away. Reading is the infusion of light.

Much to ponder here.

Not sure you will be able to concentrate on your corporate interview after being immersed in In Cold Blood. You might want to put back some light by reading some poetry.

Serena said...

I have not read In Cold Blood either. I'll wait for your impressions. I'm ready the book club book and woefully behind in it...since the meeting is tomorrow and I'm only halfway done

Amy said...

I've not read In Cold Blood either, but I'm so glad you had some time to yourself this morning to really read. :)

Lilian Nattel said...

What wonderful reads. I have loved many of Sacks' books. I wasn't aware of his earlier drug use.

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