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Contemporary Inspirational Funny

Obsession - is that good or bad? There is a different school of thought on that. Let’s discuss it for a moment.

On one hand, people with obsession can be perceived as passionate, caring, and possibly even talented. Someone who’s refusing to give up on whatever item or topic that they are obsessing about. In my opinion, these are the people that invented light bulbs, phones, cars, X-ray machines - the list can go on. These people stayed true to their beliefs and ideas. The obsession with their work prevented them from giving up, possibly making them forget to sleep or eat until they achieved their goals. Looking back today to the past accomplishments of these people, we call them geniuses, heroes, and inventors.

However, when I’m trying to imagine the day-to-day life that they must have led, I can’t help but wonder about the other side of this coin. Obsessed people have a tendency to talk and think of nothing but the object of their interest. Just imagine for a minute that Marie Curie’s husband is trying to have a romantic evening with her but instead, she engages him in a conversation about the X-rays. Maybe that’s a bad example though. Pierre Curie was equally involved in his wife’s work, so perhaps the topics of physics and the rays were equally exciting for both of them. Perhaps we could consider Edison instead. Let’s imagine how he comes home, after a long day and his wife greets him with candles, maybe a nice dinner on the table. She smiles at him lustfully, hoping for a nice evening with her beloved, and at the most critical moment, he starts talking about light bulbs and electricity! It must have been hard to take. But the bigger question is – are obsessed people aware of their traits and weaknesses? Can they recognize the dead cold silence of the room where they just spent the last thirty minutes talking about something that no one else gives a damn about but them? I would hope they know… I know I do.

My obsession started when I was little. I was consciously aware of it since I was five. According to my dad, it started earlier. He could relate and understand it because he was equally impacted so chances are mine was genetically inherited. He thinks it started when I was about three. He would take me for a walk along Seaside boulevard in Odessa. We would sit down on the bench and share some bologna sandwiches while he was pointing at the large letters in the Soviet newspaper called The Truth (trust me, the irony is not lost on me) and making me repeat after him every letter, word, and sentence. Later he explained to me that he didn’t use this newspaper because it was his favorite but because it was easily accessible and had the largest font. Therefore, in my dad’s mind, it was the most suitable for teaching his daughter how to read. I vividly remember how excited he got when I read my first store sign. It was a difficult and long one too – “Central Univermag”. It was probably the closest to the American malls we could possibly have during that time.

And so, it started. By four I was reading everything in sight and by five started on real books. Not that the picture books were not real, but there was not enough context there for my young mind which was already being overtaken by the early touch of my obsession with reading. One may wonder what’s so bad about it. Isn’t this every parent’s dream for their kids to WANT to read? Yes… until their kid starts bugging them every day about how bored they are, and how there is nothing to read, and they have read all the books in the house … twice. And most books they could access in the limited local library. And on and on and on. Occasionally, someone (friends, neighbors, relatives) would bring me a book and I would shut up for exactly two days (3 days if it was during the week and I had to peel myself away to fulfill my schooling obligations). Then I would obsessively chatter about the book with anyone in sight until I would run into that “room of silence” I mentioned earlier and start whining again about not having anything to read. 

My parents split up when I was very young so everyone, including me, would breathe a sigh of relief when a few times a month my dad would materialize in town between his trips. The long-awaited phone call would come where he would hint at me about a new treasure he managed to snatch at the book’s black market (yes, such a thing did exist in the USSR) and invite me to come over. Dad lived in a tiny-tiny studio apartment but most of its walls were covered by shelves with books. Hundreds of them. I loved coming to visit him. First, he never limited me in what genre or topic I wanted to read and was willing to discuss it with me, never mind my age. Second, I felt like he was the only person who could understand the burning desire to continue reading page after page regardless of time until one’s need to finish this specific story is satisfied. We would spend hours into the night in his minuscule kitchen, sitting across from each other with piles of books on both sides of us. From time to time, he would pour himself and me a cup of milk or another dairy beverage that was so prominent in Soviet Ukraine. We would drink them absentmindedly, chasing each glass with the same familiar bologna sandwiches. NOTHING tasted better and to this day, every time I sit down to read, I’m longing for that simple snack. To be fair, dad did start this obsession and he continued to splash oil on this fire by bringing me books every time we saw each other. My mother occasionally tried to put up a fight since our apartment was not much bigger than his and was getting dangerously close to being overtaken by my growing collection. Yes, I was about eleven or twelve, when I realized that I was collecting books.

While I was open to reading anything and everything, my heart from an early age was stolen by science fiction. I was captivated by the crazy experiments of Alexander Belyaev. I flew to various planets with Alice in the stories by Kir Bulichev and laughed to tears submerging into the mysterious and crazy worlds of Mikhail Bulgakov. But I feel like my true love came to me at the age of eight when I read my very first robotics story by Isak Asimov. I was hooked. At the time, it was hard to find many of his books in the old country, as they say. I had to satisfy my appetite with the first three books of the Foundation series not fully realizing what a huge universe lay behind these pages waiting to be discovered by me later in life.

In time, as I got older and immigrated, I got more selective about my book’s procurements but everyone around me knows that while I love books and reading, I’m truly obsessed with anything and everything that was written by Asimov. I read and reread his stories, including his autobiography, feeling like we were somewhat related or connected due to our similar ethnic backgrounds. I managed to get my hands on some copies of Asimov's Science Fiction magazines and random articles. The most amazing part of my journey in getting to know my Isaac was that he continued to surprise me! Every time I would think that I knew of every book or series he’s done, not counting non-fiction, I would stumble upon something new. Isaac Asimov managed to create an unlimited number of unforgettable characters and worlds in what can be truly and rightfully called his Universe. It is hard to believe that one person could do all that especially… especially when his own life got cut so devastatingly short. I could only imagine how much more he would have brought to us, his true fans and followers, if he was given adequate time. He was known for his slight sarcasm and dry sense of humor so I do wonder if he would have enjoyed the fast-paced world of Twitter where everything can be said in just a short statement. I would have enjoyed reading his tweets!

My love for reading did transition to my kids. Perhaps not to the point of my obsession but nevertheless, both of them had their small libraries while they were young and continued to expand them as they got older. The love for my Isaak seemed to also continue in them. Again, not to the point of my devotion, but they do get equally excited when I discover something new that hasn’t been read before by either one of us. Typically, in this case, there is a bit of a fight over who would read it first which I almost always win because they know what’s good for them! When they were younger, I shared my paperback copies of the foundation series with them knowing that most likely I would find the books in the morning flipped open upside down in their bed or on the floor of their rooms, just like it happened with me many moons ago when I couldn’t part ways with my Isaak until I’m done. I encouraged and supported that behavior for better or for worse, overjoyed with how much these stories sparked their imagination and fueled their desire to get more into the science of things since Asimov always tried to stay as true to science as he possibly could for his time.

In my desire to get them acquainted with Asimov, I forgot how literal kids could be. So, it came as a surprise when one day my younger son, who was then almost twelve, asked me if it would be possible for him to meet Isaak. At first, I was about to blurt out that he was no longer living, and it was not an option but then I caught myself. He was still a kid and I never even considered that my feeling of “belonging” in Isaak’s world would bring the same closeness to my children. Now, I was looking into my son’s big brown eyes that were shining at me excitingly. He was growing up in a world where, thanks to social media and multiple fan events, encountering your star crash was totally doable.

I sat him down, carefully explaining that bad things happen even with such special people as our Isaak. He looked at me for a while before he summarized his feelings, in a way echoing my own thoughts:

“I wish I could ask for his autograph and tell him how much I love him.”

“Me too”, I sighed. “You know, when I was your age and we were still living in Odessa, I dreamed about how when I grow up, I would come to the USA and meet him and maybe apply to be his secretary or something! Or I could have helped to translate some of his books!”

The thought of me working for Isaak made my kid laugh. We exchanged a few jokes on the subject and he seemed to leave in a better mood. What I told him was partially true – I did dream about meeting Asimov but by the time we came to the USA, it was too late. But I thought of something else wondering why I haven’t pursued it before – I also wanted to have something that belonged to Isaak or perhaps that he touched even for a moment. As always, when I had a goal, I would stop at nothing to make it happen.

My son’s birthday was just a mere few weeks away. Not too much time when you are trying to find something rare but plenty of opportunity for someone as determined as I was to make my son happy. I consulted with the rest of the family, and we set a budget that was probably more than I ever paid for any book before, but I feared it would not be enough for what I wanted to achieve. Armed with that, I charged into action. I checked all the possible sites I could think of. I found a few options, but they didn’t seem to be genuine, so I kept looking. Finally, I thought I found something that was worth discussing and started haggling with the seller online back and forth. He wouldn’t budge, feeling my desperation, so I decided to switch tactics and moved my search to the thrift stores.

I didn’t particularly expect anything when I walked into The Last Book Store in downtown Los Angeles. Of course, with my obsession, I came here whenever time permitted. I think if I would have visualized it inside my own brain, it would look something like this place – piles of books, old and new alike, all around me with cozy little nooks here and there where one can sit down for a few minutes to devour a few pages of the new volume that you are inspired to make your own. Following my habit, I went to the second floor to check the Sci-Fi section but there was nothing there that I didn’t already have.

“May I help you with something?” I heard a pleasant young voice nearby. When I turned, I discovered a very young man, with a name tag that spelled …Isaak. I probably looked pretty stupid because my jaw literally dropped as I was blinking looking at his nametag.

“Mam?” He tried again when I still wasn’t able to utter a single word, which was very unlike me!

“Yes, sorry!” I finally managed to pick up my jaw off the floor and squeeze in a smile. Judging by his reaction, that didn’t look any better because I was obviously scaring him. He probably regretted talking to me at all. “I’m looking for something very special, but I’m not sure if you would even have something like that.”

“What is it?” his face lit up with curiosity at my “special” comment and I instantly knew that I’m looking at an equally crazy-obsessed bookworm as myself.

“My son is a big fan of Isaak Asimov,” I saw how his smile got wider at the mention of the name. “I was hoping to get him something unique for his birthday but striking out.”

Isaak looked at me thoughtfully and gestured to follow him.

“Did you know we have a separate section for older and rare editions? We call it The Vault,” he threw at me over the shoulder as we zigzagged through the crowds that were buzzing around the store. I shook my head in response, but I doubt he saw me.

We ended up on the first floor while he led me into the far corner of the store. I was in search of my lower jaw once again, probably looking like a kid that was unexpectedly brought into a candy store. After so many visits here, how could I not know about this place?! I walked along the dark shelves of the small, clearly climate-controlled, room. To be honest, if someone told me I could stay and live here for a few months with limited conveniences, I would totally take them up on it – this is what heaven must look like for people like me. Dozens of old volumes were surrounding me on all four walls of the room giving the only exception to the doorway. Most of the bounds were darker and heavier. I couldn’t stop myself, so I pulled a few out and opened them up. The unmistakable dusty but sweet smell of the old pages enveloped me instantly making me almost forget why I was there until my companion exclaimed:

“Here it is! I thought I saw it a few days ago!” He turned around flashing me an overjoyed smile while he extended the book to me in an old slightly torn paper jacket. I carefully took it from him. I’ve heard of this one but have never seen it before. Almost afraid to breathe, as if it could fall apart under my fingers, I carefully opened it and read the first page. This was it. The Book! My new friend Isaak helped me find a way to my Isaak and a little something from his times that my son will be able to cherish for the rest of his life.

I’m not sure I even asked how much it was, knowing I must have it, but it was surprisingly under budget. Isaak explained to me that since this was not one of the “commonly known” stories, they didn’t think there would be a lot of interest unless it was a collector or an admirer like myself.

On the day of my son’s birthday, along with a few other presents, we gave him a small box wrapped in simple paper.

“Open this one carefully,” I whispered to him as he excitedly grabbed it.

He nodded and slowly unwrapped the book that was inside. After glancing at the old jacket and the title, I saw he was overtaken by emotion. Even at that young age, he understood this was something extraordinary that took a lot of effort to find.

“Open the book”, I encouraged him.

He hesitated, just like I did at the store, but finally flipped a few pages until he got to the introduction section where across the top in the older font it said The Tyrannosaurus Prescription and 100 Other Essays. Under the title, the year of publishing was noted. Directly below it was a handwritten sentence:

Keep On Reading!

I.Asimov

November 24, 2022 05:11

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10 comments

Delbert Griffith
12:36 Nov 24, 2022

I love this story because I am a fan of your Isaak. I found the story engaging because I can relate to the love of literature in so many ways. Asimov was a genius, of course, and his writing defined sci-fi and its possibilities. Not even the great Ray Bradbury could match your Isaak. Well done, Ela. Well done.

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Ela Mikh
19:45 Nov 24, 2022

Thank you very much! I agree and loved how Asimov "allowed" other writers into his Universe in later years. So incredibly generous and supportive!

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Jack Bell
11:01 Dec 01, 2022

A reading obsession is the only way to develop a narrative voice as strong and engaging as the one in evidence here -- so it's hard to see a downside. :)

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Ela Mikh
14:53 Dec 01, 2022

Thank you! That's a great observation and I wholeheartedly agree

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Michał Przywara
21:40 Nov 29, 2022

This story is probably very relatable to a lot of people on this site. Certainly, as an Asimov fan myself, and a book fan in general, I *get* it :) The introduction sets this obsession up as a sad thing, a very lonely thing, i.e. "Can they recognize the dead cold silence of the room", but the story shows us it doesn't have to be lonely at all. Here we have three generations of a family connected by a love of reading. The title and theme of "My Isaak" is interesting too. Without ever having directly met him, the narrator still did indirec...

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Ela Mikh
05:16 Nov 30, 2022

Thank you, Michael, for a great overview! It's very true - the love for books helped me connect my kids, who were born and raised in the US, with my Dad who, until recently, was in Ukraine and is now living in Germany. But we are all equally passionate about reading, even if it's in different languages. Family values were huge in Asimov's family - he speaks a lot of them in his autobiography, especially when he describes little things that his dad did for him. Those things were not easily understood since Asimov was a protege, but the family...

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Wendy Kaminski
15:06 Nov 25, 2022

I am new to your work, having meandered my way over here through back channels, but this is absolutely endearing! You truly have a gift for narrative. I'm sure, to turn a phrase, Isaak would say "Keep on Writing!". :) Thanks for relating such a wonderful read!

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Ela Mikh
17:34 Nov 25, 2022

Thank you! That's the best compliment I could have hoped for. Yes, he was certainly very inspirational and a huge influence in my life....

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11:00 Sep 08, 2023

Wow! This story is... No words. 😁 This is truly amazing. *Is* obsession a good or bad thing? This made me think (I love stories that make me think). I suppose it depends on what you're obsessed with, doesn't it? And does that mean good/bad for just you, or the people around you too? I can relate! I'm obsessed with reading, especially Sci-Fi (and crime tbh), and ESPECIALLY Asimov (and Heinlein). I've read the first 3 Foundation stories and have the 5th one, but I can't get hold of the 4th and I'm having to force myself not to read the 5...

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Ela Mikh
18:41 Sep 08, 2023

Hello, thank you for reading. Oh, he wrote much much more. Some of his romance stories are a bit sarcastic. Overall he published over 600 books/stories (fictional and otherwise). I would suggest that you hook up with thriftbooks.com - they have some older editions. I collect his work so he has so many short stories, it's hard to pinpoint a specific one. One comes to mind - Fantastic Voyage - find it! it's spectacular and plenty of Sci-Fi romance ;) It will blow your mind, especially when you consider when it was written

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