Tween Titan

My mother moonlighted from her teaching job as a secretary at Doubleday. We got all the remainders from the Science Fiction Book Club — plenty of Asimov, and I read copiously.

But one day, I found a copy of Madame Bovary on my parents’ bookshelf, started reading and realized everything Asimov had left unaddressed — interiority, personality, morality (or lack thereof). I realized that I could never go back and that a pile of Constance Lambert cheapie editions of the Russians was in my future. I wanted to understand what made human beings tick, which involved psychology, an area Asimov illuminated only with cartoons.

From a craft perspective, Asimov was an MFA instructor’s dream. Arrive at your typewriter at 9 AM, sit down, type, and do not get up until 5 PM. You cannot teach this. It has to be innate. But was the end-product good? He could write Asimov’s Guide to Paradise Lost, but he could never have written Paradise Lost. He could write about intelligent robots, but not about intelligent women — Dr. Susan Calvin was really a robot with chromosomes.

Ed O’Neill once remarked, “Asimov is an uneducated person’s idea of an educated person.” Just so. Asimov was a public library autodidact, just as I was, but he didn’t succeed in evaluating what was on the shelves, took a lot at face value, and assumed that he knew it all. He did write over 500 books, but I would have settled for a handful of good ones, ones that would not make me feel like a fool for my misspent tweens.