It's Been a Good Life
ISBN: 1573929689

It’s always a joy to read Asimov, the person in particular. I feel no public library SciFi collection is complete without Asimov.

This book is a compilation of letters — excerpts from Isaac Asimov’s autobiographies, namely:
“In memory yet green” (1979)
“In joy still felt” (1980)
“I, Asimov” (1992)

The letters touch on themes like his childhood years, the war years, on his becoming a writer (how/ why he met Campbell face-to-face), entering academia, his own religious perspective (or non-religious, rather), a lot about his writing process, his idiosyncracies (like how he doesn’t like criticisms of his drafts), and also including his heart attack.

The epilogue is by his second wife, Janet, that “reveal the true story of Isaac’s final illness and death” (he acquired AIDS from tainted blood after his heart surgery). It’s rather sad, now that I know it. The sadness comes from having felt like I’ve known him as a friend (through his writings, of course). The redeeming part is that in his letters his attitude, that he’s had a good life, comes through.

I consider this my re-acquaintance of one of my favourite authors, whose writings I’ve lost touch for several years. What struck me was his “coming of age”; personal and professional development. It shows the very human side of him, with his acknowledgment of his flaws yet not harping on them, so much so they get in the way of living.

P15. “However trashy pulp fiction might be, it had to be read. Youngsters avid for the corny, lightening-jagged, cliche-ridden, clumsy stories had to read words and sentences to satisfy their craving. It trained everyone who read it in literacy, and a small percentage of them may then have passed on to better things…”

P19. On religion; his views as a ‘Rationalist’ and why he prefers that term to Atheist.

P21. Once you value learning, the rest is easy.

P29. How/ why his father got him a library card (because his father didn’t want him to read the ‘trashy’ stuff they sold in their store).

P31. On the role and value of public libraries: “I received my fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.

Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.”

P35. He invents the plots as he writes, but he always has in mind a resolution to problem that his characters are trying to solve.

P46. On how he realised his passion was to write a SciFi story, not make money, and have it appear in a magazine (and this part made me think if all good writers have this hunger for their craft, rather than wanting to make it big).

P114. decision to write simply.

P119. It was after he had earned his Ph.D. And started working as an academic, and the year his sales topped almost $5,000 (almost what he was earning as an academic) that he realised he could really be a full-time writer.

P121. Briefly, on the McCarthy “witchhunts” for suspected communists.

P123. The increasingly ‘estranged’ relationship with Asimov and Campbell, where Asimov is torn between loyalty/ gratitude and a growing sense of a less rationalist aspect of Campbell.

P289. Bibliography and publication years of his works. Subjects/ genres cover: Fiction (SciFi, Mystery, Fantasy, anthologies), Non-fiction (general science, mathematics, astronomy, earth sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, physics, biology, history, the bible, literature, humor and satire, his autobiographies).