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Books

Compiled by Graeme Aitken

ON THE MOVE: A LIFE

Neurologist Oliver Sacks gained fame as a writer of clinical tales (The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Awakenings), sympathetic and revealing accounts of his patients’ tics, trials and torments. Awakenings was adapted as a film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, and brought Sacks considerable fame. But in this memoir, Dr Sacks’ subject is himself, and he proves to be more candid than ever before; a frankness encouraged by the knowledge of his terminal illness. He announced that he had cancer in February 2015, On The Move was published in May, and he died in late August. Even the cover image of his memoir is revealing. Sacks is best-known as a grey-haired, bearded, benevolent older man – but here he is in his youth, astride a motorbike in a leather jacket, butch and sexy. The memoir reveals that Sacks had a passion for motorbikes and took every opportunity to enjoy the exhilarating freedom of the road. He undertook an epic road trip across the USA, falling in with a group of truckers along the way. His other great obsession was bodybuilding and he hung with a crowd of bodybuilders at Muscle Beach. But the macho crowd he was drawn to did him no favours when it came to his sexuality. He was rejected by some of the men he fell for, but most devastating was his mother’s reaction when he revealed he was gay – “I wish you had never been born!” These early rejections played some part in Sacks choosing to live a very cloistered sex life for decades. He ended up spending 35 years celibate before forming a final, loving relationship with the writer Billy Hayes.

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