Chasing Ghosts 2

I’ve finished reading IT’S BEEN A GOOD LIFE, Isaac Asimov’s autobiography — really, a collection of letters and journal entries, selected by his widow and daughter. I loved it, but gave it 4 of 5 stars due to poor ebook conversion.

Asimov is the kind of guy I would have enjoyed knowing. I don’t think he’s for everyone, but for me, yeah. I get him. A Jew who didn’t care about being a Jew (I’m not Jewish, but I get the whole not-identifying-with-your-culture thing); a kid who felt he had to always prove how smart he was, but eventually outgrew it; an American who loved his adopted country but didn’t think it walked on water; a scientist who felt science was good but recognized some scientists were evil.

Here is my favorite quote:

To learn is to broaden, to experience more, to snatch new aspects of life for yourself. To refuse to learn or to be relieved at no longer having to learn is to commit a form of suicide; in the long run, a more meaningful type of suicide than the mere ending of physical life. Knowledge is not only power; it is happiness, and being taught is the intellectual analog of being loved.

The main thing I got from him was just keep writing, the best way you can, in the way you love to.

If he’d lived in this era, I have zero doubt he’d self-publish. He learned a lot from his first editor — their relationship, and Isaac’s age (19-22), would have been the same as a good English professor helping a young writer — but after that period, I get the sense he didn’t need anyone’s guidance, other than his audience’s. He honed his writing by reading Wodehouse and Dickens and Shakespeare, not by going to writer workshops.

Critics said his writing was wooden, but readers kept coming back — so who’s right? It’s up to each of us to decide. For me, he’s a great writer due to his almost complete lack of style. He doesn’t show how smart he is with bludgeoning word choices or overly-complex plots. It takes skill to tell a story and not leave your fingerprints all over it.


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