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Fascinated by the beauty of my cadences


Filling a flyleaf with my first story
Sherwin Nuland Surgeon
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So I was a reader at an early age, and not only that, but I became fascinated with the notion of storytelling. Because the Book of Knowledge wasn't really for adults. It was for, I would say, late teenagers. And they understood the importance of narrative, and describing even historical events, and how the railroad was built across the United States. And this caught on very quickly with me.

One day, I… went to a carnival that was about two blocks away. A huge empty lot. There were lots of huge empty lots in the Bronx at that time. And there was a travelling carnival, and I went there, and I was so excited that, coming home, I went myself. I was so excited coming home that I had to tell somebody and there was nobody at home to tell, and I had to write it somewhere. Now we lived in a home without a writing tablet. There was nothing to write on. But someone had given me a little volume… actually, I have it in the next room. A little tiny 2 x 4… It was really about… maybe it was 6 x 4. A book that was very popular at that time, about various things. It was called The Wonders of the World, and the Colossus at Rhodes, and who knows? Those wonders of the Ancient World. There were wonders of the modern world, with pictures.

Now the front of that book, the flyleaf was blank. And I sat down with my little stubby pencil, and I wrote about the carnival. It was the first piece of non-fiction writing I'd ever done. And what a great sense of satisfaction. I filled up the front flyleaves, I filled up the back flyleaves, and I had a little story. And from then on in, it wasn't just the wonders of reading, it was the wonders of writing, which I have always enjoyed. You know, I read the comments of certain writers, especially non-fiction writers, about how hard it is to write… and who was it? Red Smith, the sports columnist many years ago at The Times, said, writing is easy, you just sit at the typewriter until your fingers start to bleed. I've never had that experience. It's quite the opposite. I'm often driven to my chair and my desk, because I just have to write something. And when I start writing… and I think this began at that time, I get lost the same way I got lost in Ab the Caveman. I'm transported to some other world, and I know this sounds awfully narcissistic, but I'm fascinated by the sound of my voice… when I write. I just love it. I end up reading the stuff out loud and thinking, oh my God, I wrote this. Did I really write this?

Sherwin Nuland (1930-2014) was an American surgeon and author who taught bioethics, the history of medicine, and medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. He wrote the book How We Die which made The New York Times bestseller list and won the National Book Award. He also wrote about his own painful coming of age as a son of immigrants in Lost in America: A Journey with My Father. He used to write for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, and the New York Review of Books.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: The Book of Knowledge, The Wonders of the World, The Times, Red Smith

Duration: 3 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2011

Date story went live: 13 September 2011