As we noted a few days ago, last week marked the deaths of Harper Lee and Umberto Eco, just two of a constellation of writers, artists, and musicians who have passed away recently—so many all at once, it seems, that there’s something in the water. A lesser known casualty was Jake Page, the author of Tony Hillermanesque mystery novels, books of science, and particularly, in his later years, works about Native American life, such as his sweeping history In the Hands of the Great Spirit. Page, who died at home in the Colorado Rockies, did much of his work in New York, where, behind the scenes, he once worked as an editor at Doubleday and oversaw the Natural History imprint. (If you were a college student in the 1970s or 1980s, you likely read a few of those books in survey courses in biology, ecology, anthropology, and the like.) After working in other publishing houses, Page joined the staff of Smithsonian, specializing in popular science. He was 80.
A profoundly erudite but still funny consumer and dispenser of popular science—and every other subject under the sun, for that matter—Stephen Fry has written a dozen-odd novels, travelogues, and books of memoirs, most recently the lively More Fool Me. An actor and television presenter as well as writer, and an early adopter of technology who is said to have owned the second Apple computer sold in the UK (the first was Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Fry recently made news with his decision to abandon Twitter. He announced this with a blog entry memorably titled “Too Many People Have Peed in the Pool,” decrying the comments that his own eminently reasonable tweets have inspired: “It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists,” he writes, “the ghastliness is absolutely the same. It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view.” Predictably, the news was followed by a rumor that Fry was going to quit England for the US, to which he replied, wonderingly, “Do I really think that Twitter is British?”
Speaking of Blighty, though many of his recent allies have shuffled off the mortal coil and now know the answer firsthand, Richard Dawkins is still with us, and still ardently professing the atheism that motivates books such as The Magic of Reality. As The Guardian reports, though, Dawkins recently suffered a stroke. To the consternation of many of his likeminded admirers, and probably some old- fashioned clerics as well, the Church of England tweeted prayers for him and his family. Dawkins has not replied, thunderously or otherwise, though his latest book, Brief Candle in the Dark, reiterates his belief in scientific rationalism.
John Updike may have been accused of writing trash in his day, but we now consider the author, who died in 2009, one of the greatest writers of postwar fiction, worthy of serious scholarly consideration. It’s for that reason, we presume, that Updike’s trash, carefully harvested by a collector, should command enough attention to go up for auction. The expected haul for Updike’s discarded letters, ticket stubs, and canceled checks? Somewhere around $25,000 to $30,000.
And speaking of garbage in, garbage out, it’s been a canard of many decades’ standing that we humans use only 10 percent of our brains. Stuff and nonsense. Our memory capacity alone, scientists at the Salk Institute report, is 10 times greater than had originally been calculated. Now, if only we could put that added brainpower to work solving a few of the world’s problems…
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.