• Bert Pepper

January 2020 Marks the Centennial of Isaac Asimov's Birth. Here are His Thoughts on Work.

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

“The only way to escape the corruptible effect of praise

is to go on working.” --- Albert Einstein

January 2020 marks the centennial of Isaac Asimov’s birth. Asimov was prolific beyond compare as a book writer. He is credited with writing or editing more than 500 books. His fields of inquiry were so diverse that his books are in nine of the ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System. He is best known for science fiction, but he wrote nonfiction books on science, as well as mysteries and fantasy novels. He wrote a few children’s books under the pen name Paul French. He even wrote a story outline for Paul McCartney who had approached him about coming up with a treatment for a sci-fi musical. While it was never produced, this shows the long reach of Asimov’s talent. He also collaborated with Gene Roddenberry on some of the episodes of the television show Star Trek. Asimov is said to have coined the word robotics and Roddenberry wanted to make a movie of Asimov’s I, Robot, but that effort did not get off the ground. The film was made in 2004 with Will Smith.

Born in Russia, Asimov came to the United States in 1923 when he was three, became a citizen when he was eight, and died in 1992, when he was 72.

Asimov was intellectually adventurous but physically, not so much. He preferred to be at home, writing. Fly? No thanks. Travel was limited to places that did not involve leaving the ground, but lecturing and patiently answering innumerable questions from an audience was fun. I once heard him speak in Washington DC.

Asimov gave the keynote at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. Charming, erudite, and funny, he answered the question: why do you write so much? He said there was a pull and a push. The pull was that he enjoyed sitting at his electric typewriter, writing. In order to explain the push, he told a story.

During Asimov’s high school years, the family lived in Brooklyn, near the family’s candy store. Isaac's father needed a break at dinner time, and it was Isaac’s responsibility to take care of the store during dinner hour.

Few Brooklynites went to a candy store during dinner hour. Who would eat ice cream before dinner? It was a good time to clean up. Isaac swept up the sawdust of the day and sprinkled clean sawdust for the next. He filled the syrup containers, polished the marble counter, wiped down the tables, chairs, and soda fountain seats, and did whatever else was on the list of dinner hour chores. Then he would read.

The candy store sold many magazines, covering a wide range of topics, all of which interested young Isaac. Sitting In a clean store with no customers, Isaac sat on a stool and read. Pleasure!

On more than one occasion his father, returning from dinner, peered into the store from the corner of the window, checking on his son. If he caught Isaac reading, his father would rush into the store, berating him for being lazy.

Asimov concluded his keynote by looking up, presumably toward heaven. He said, “Papa, I have now written 235 books. Am I still lazy?”

After that talk Asimov went on to write another 250+ books before he died.

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