Reading Matters

What do Oliver Sacks and leaping lemurs have in common?

Oliver Sacks has warned us that he’s not long for this world. For this reason, I tend to lap up every word he writes. In Sunday’s New York Times, he had another column, this one about his eagerness to read – almost greedily, he says – the scientific journals that arrive in the mail. He’s particularly thrilled (his word) with the physical sciences, and it makes him sad to think of the breakthroughs in the physical and biological sciences that he will miss.

At 82, “when death is no longer an abstract concept, but a presence” – Sacks is surrounding himself with metals and minerals, little emblems of eternity, he calls them.

He writes that last week he started a new sort of treatment – immunotherapy – and before beginning this, he says he wanted to have a little fun.

So what’s a little fun for Sacks?

This time it was a trip to North Carolina to “see the wonderful lemur research center at Duke University.”

Lemurs, he writes, “are close to the ancestral stock from which all primates arose, and I am happy to think that one of my own ancestors, 50 million years ago, was a little tree-dwelling creature not so dissimilar to the lemurs of today.

“I love their leaping vitality,” he says, “their inquisitive nature.”

Why are we not one bit surprised.