|© Bill Hayes / Oliver Sacks Foundation
Everything In Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales
By Oliver Sacks
"Swimming became a dominant passion at Oxford, and after this there was no going back. When I came to New York, in the mid-1960s, I started to swim at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and would sometimes make the circuit of City Island—a swim that took me several hours. This, indeed, is how I found the house I lived in for twenty years: I had stopped about halfway around to look at a charming gazebo by the water's edge, got out and strolled up the street, saw a little red house for sale, was shown round it (still dripping) by the puzzled owners, walked along to the real estate agent and convinced her of my interest (she was not used to customers in swim trunks), reentered the water on the other side of the island, and swam back to Orchard Beach, having acquired a house in midswim."
("Water Babies," p. 5)
"I do not think my experience is unique. Many scientists, no less than poets or artists, have a living relation to the past, not just an abstract sense of history and tradition but a feeling of companions and predecessors, ancestors with whom they enjoy a sort of implicit dialogue. Science sometimes sees itself as impersonal, as "pure thought," independent of its historical and human origins. It is often taught as if this were the case. But science is a human enterprise through and through, an organic, evolving, human growth, with sudden spurts and arrests, and strange deviations, too. It grows out of its past but never outgrows it, any more than we outgrow our childhoods."
("Humphry Davy: Poet of Chemistry," p. 39)
"The oak-paneled library was the quietest and most beautiful room in the house, to my eyes, and it vied with my little chemistry lab as my favorite place to be. I would curl up in a chair and become so absorbed in what I was reading that all sense of time would be lost. Whenever I was late for lunch or dinner I could be found, completely enthralled by a book, in the library. I learned to read early, at three our four, and books, and our library, are among my first memories.
But the ur-library, for me, was our local public library, the Willesden library. There I spent many of the happiest hours of my growing-up years—our house was a five-minute walk from the library—and it was there I received my education.
On the whole, I disliked school, sitting in class, receiving instruction; information seemed to go in one ear and out the other. I could not be passive—I had to be active, learn for myself, learn what I wanted, and in the way that suited me best. I was not a good pupil, but I was a good learner, and in the Willesden library—and all the libraries that came later—I roamed the shelves and stacks, had the freedom to select whatever I wanted, to follow paths that fascinated me, to become myself. At the library I felt free—free to look at the thousands, tens of thousands, of books; free to roam and to enjoy the special atmosphere and the quiet companionship of other readers, all like myself, on quests of their own."
("Libraries," p. 41)