Reading Isaac Asimov’s Memoirs

In the spring of 1994 while preparing to graduate from the University of California, Riverside, I read Isaac Asimov’s memoir, I. Asimov for the first time. I knew of Asimov, of course, but I had read very little of his writing at that point. After reading I. Asimov I began to read everything I could find by the Good Doctor, fiction and nonfiction alike. I loved the FOUNDATION series. I particularly enjoyed the dozens of essay collections from Asimov’s science column in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

But the books that impacted me the most were Asimov’s original autobiographies. They were mentioned early in his memoir, I. Asimov as being out-of-print. I managed to locate some good first editions (one of which was signed) at the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood. Unlike the 1994 memoir, which was a kind of topical overview of Asimov’s life, the 2-volume autobiography (In Memory Yet Green, published in 1979, and In Joy Still Felt, published in 1980) totalled something over 1,500 pages wherein Asimov, in his colloquial way, discussed his life in great detail.

It was from these books that I learned how to be a writer. Not how to write, but how to act as a professional writer. I learned about the importance of manuscripts and clean copy, about the relationships between author and editor, about the mechanics of the publishing process, and much more.

Two years later, in 1996, I began a tradition of reading all 3 volumes in the month of April. Asimov died on April 6, 1992, so I would begin I. Asimov on April 1, and try to finish it on April 6. I would then spend the remainder of April reading the two large volumes. I began with I. Asimov because I didn’t want to end my month with Asimov’s death. This tradition became a fixed point in my life, and I eagerly looked forward to the spring because I knew it would be time to read those books.

I never tired of them. I can recall heading over to Swenson’s in Studio City, ordering a chocolate malt, and sitting at a table with In Memory Yet Green, reading it with absolute pleasure while sipping at my shake. Over the years I managed to read these books at least a dozen times, to the point where I had them virtually memorized, but I still sat down to read them each spring. It was like I was sitting down with Asimov, and he was telling me these stories. I could hear his Brooklynese accent in my mind as I read the pages.

The last year in which I read all three was 2007. I had already made my first professional story sales at that point, but my life was soon to change: marriage, followed by the first of my three children. In 2010, I managed to sneak in a reading of just In Joy Still Felt (the 11th time I read the book), and in 2012 I read In Memory Yet Green. But that was it. That was the last time I read any of the Asimov biographies, or any Isaac Asimov books for that matter. My interests had drifted. Between 1996 and 2012 I read Asimov books 137 times. Though I’ve read 400 books since 2012, not one has been by Isaac Asimov.

Until now.

I mentioned that we recently sold our house and bought a new one. It has been an extremely stressful, chaotic and busy 2 months, and I was looking for a way to center myself, now that the hard part was over. I remembered the joy and comfort that Asimov’s autobiographies brought me each spring, and as it happens to be spring now, I thought I’d read the two big books again.

It was easy mainly because we’d packed away a lot of stuff in order to declutter the house for showings. My bookshelves went into storage and the thousand books that rested on them were all boxed up. Fortunately, I had the forethought to record (in Evernote) what was in each box, so it wasn’t difficult to locate what box I needed in order to retrieve the books. The hard part was moving all of the other boxes to get to it.

On Wednesday, cracked open my first edition hardcover of In Memory Yet Green and began to read. It had the intended affect. The years flew away and it was if I was back in that Swenson’s in Studio City, with the book in front of me and chocolate shake off to one side. I am hearing Asimov’s voice again, laughing in all the right places, and soaking in the joy I’ve always taken from those books. I’m only about 80 pages through the first book, but I expect to make it through both of them within the next week or two, and I am so glad I decided to read them again.

1 thought on “Reading Isaac Asimov’s Memoirs

  1. I am not a big re-reader (mainly because I have a very strong sense of running out of time to read all the books I want to read) but if I am to re-read a book, particularly more than once, I do hope I can form the relationship with such a story and such a writer as you have with Asimov.

    It felt cozy to read this post. Like going back to a borrowed childhood.

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