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Isaac Asimov's wife shares her memories


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One night, noted writer Isaac Asimov said farewell to two friends on the New York subway. A few minutes later, "three huge hulking youths walked up to them, with apparently sinister faces and large powerful hands," his wife, Janet recalls. "Just as Isaac's friends were sure they were about to be assaulted and robbed, one of the youths bent forward and said, "Hey, was that really Isaac Asimov?"

The story's contained in Janet Jeppson Asimov's new book, "Notes for a Memoir: On Isaac Asimov, Life and Writing." Married to him for 19 years, she knows her material by heart, and shares with readers her absolute pleasure in a life shared with her prolific writer and husband. She also shares her lingering grief since his death in 1992 at age 72.

While Isaac Asimov dominates the book, his wife is impressive in her own right. She attended Wellesley College, then transferred to Stanford University where she earned a Phi Beta Kappa key. After medical school, she became a doctor, a psychoanalyst, a science columnist for a newspaper and a fiction writer under the name J.O. Jeppson.

Like most writers she learned the hard way. "Isaac (or his parents) threw away his very first attempts at writing, but I still have some of mine. I keep them to remind me that humility is a good thing."

A child of the Depression, a student during World War II, Janet Asimov wrote the memoir at age 79. She brings a no-nonsense voice to the effort and a dry sense of humor. On cooking: "I tend to make do with whatever is in the kitchen. Although Isaac said this added a certain cachet of mystery to meals, he loyally insisted that he loved my salads and my unique use (he was kind and did not say misuse) of leftovers."

There's talk of sex and religion and quite a bit about travel. That was always by ship or train since the world's premier science fiction writer refused to fly.

The last chapters deal with sorrow and grief as she copes with Isaac's death, and aging. It should resonate with anyone who has lost a parent, sibling or partner.

But she concludes "We can't always choose what happens to us in reality, but we can choose how we record it and, above all, how we live in our private virtual reality. It's more fun to choose ... happily."

On the page

"Notes for a Memoir: On Isaac Asimov, Life and Writing" by Janet Jeppson Asimov. Prometheus Books, $25.

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