Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 924
Although the quantity of Asimov’s writing is perhaps unequaled in the modern annals of American literary production, all of his work is considered to be of outstanding quality and has been consistently greeted with popular and critical acclaim. His writings range from the science-fiction pieces with which he established his international following to college-level medical textbooks, scientific monographs for the general reader, fiction for juveniles, natural and political history, dictionary and encyclopedia articles, limericks, and mystery novels. The so-called Foundation Trilogy, published in the early 1950’s, ranks as one of the most significant and influential works that defined and legitimized science fiction as a respected and critically accepted form of literary expression in the United States. In the 1970’s, his 1941 short story “Nightfall” was voted the best science-fiction work of all time by the Science Fiction Writers of America.
Since In Joy Still Felt is an autobiographical work, it is impossible to separate completely an analysis of the volume as a work of literature from explicit commentary about the life of the author that is portrayed within its pages. It must be stated that the true value of this volume lies in the insights and knowledge which it imparts about Asimov the man, not in the book’s inherent literary achievement. The style, strength of writing, and organization of this volume clearly do not rank with those of any classic autobiographies of established literary merit.
In Joy Still Felt fails to compare favorably with the careful literary craftsmanship exhibited in much of Asimov’s other writing. Instead, a significant amount of the almost eight-hundred-page narrative is concerned with relating, in an apparent stream-of-consciousness, chronological fashion, mundane and commonplace events of Asimov’s life—among which are interspersed the milestones of his literary and personal accomplishments. One suspects that Asimov’s method of writing this volume was to take his diary and journal entries and loosely rework them into the chapters and subchapters of the book. His language is concise and pleasing to read, and the volume is articulately written, with humor and human interest. Yet Asimov made little effort to organize around persons, themes, or events significant to his life. The reader is instead confronted with a steady procession of personalities, literary efforts, and everyday occurrences. These elements of narrative appear and disappear with no explanation.
Nevertheless, this hodgepodge approach to autobiography provides a treasure trove of information for any patient reader who is interested in the personality, family, work habits, and literary views of the famous author. In this regard, the meticulous detail and level of personal minutiae included in the volume permit a rare opportunity to observe at very close range an unusually fertile mind at work. Asimov devotes much space to describing his work habits as a writer and to discussing the motivations for his work, not only regarding his general orientations as an author but also with respect to specific titles.
In Joy Still Felt thus allows the reader to observe the author at work, so to speak, and the picture presented is an impressive one. Asimov has developed research and writing habits which may well be unique in the history of American letters, matched perhaps only by those of the nineteenth century historian H. H. Bancroft, whose methods of literary production provide some analogies. Both men had a remarkable and insatiable curiosity about a variety of topics. Both wrote at a furious pace, produced a huge amount of material, and ranged widely within their respective literary tastes. For Bancroft it was history, while for Asimov it has primarily been science. They both exhibit a passion for collecting information and a drive to explain their mastery of specialized material to their general readership. There the similarities end, for Bancroft employed a personal army of research assistants, editorial associates, and advisory editors who daily supported him in his writings, much of which were group efforts.
Asimov works completely and entirely alone—from initial conception to final copy, with every piece he publishes based on his own personally conducted research and reading. He prefers writing in an uninterrupted flow of words, producing large amounts of text in short periods of time and taking few breaks in finishing fairly complete first drafts. One editing of what he writes, at the most, is all he is willing to undertake before his manuscripts arrive at his publishers. Moreover, he refuses to employ literary agents, eschews speaking agencies, and exists without the services of a personal secretary for his correspondence, filing, and office management.
A close reading of his autobiography clearly indicates how Isaac Asimov’s distinctive personality is able to function in a literary world which increasingly demands that successful, popular authors become entities of an almost corporate nature. He is a person of great intelligence, highly focused concentration, and personal drive, all of which permit him to harness and exploit his talents. Undistracted, he brings these qualities to bear on any project on which he is working. In Joy Still Felt provides a picture of the author which indicates that he is an individual of expansive ego, unusual self-assurance, and supreme self-confidence. Self-doubt is a personality characteristic completely lacking within the pages of this autobiography. Indeed, in his biographical listing for Who’s Who in America, Asimov noted, “I have been fortunate to be born with a restless and efficient brain, with a capacity for clear thought and an ability to put that thought into words.” In Joy Still Felt, written a decade before that statement, provides tangible testimony to such an assertion.
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