I recently began reading a new C. S. Lewis biography— C. S. Lewis: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. The book caught my notice because of its good reviews, but I decided to purchase and read it for basically two reasons – 1) C. S. Lewis is one of my spiritual mentors and I appreciate him a lot, and 2) I am very interested in well-written biographies. A number of Lewis biographies have been written, including by people who knew him personally, but this new book is supposed to be something special. We’ll see. I have read other Lewis biographies – C. S. Lewis (1990) by A. N. Wilson and The Most Reluctant Convert (2002) by David Downing – yet now I have an additional interest in the biography as a writing form. More on that “additional interest” in a moment. I have read other biographies, too, for the same reason. I read the Steve Jobs biography, partly because I was interested in his story, but mostly because I wanted to see how Walter Isaacson, the author, formed the book and wrote about the details. It was a good read, by the way. An even better read is the Andre Agassi autobiography. I bought his book, entitled Open, because it was on sale, little realizing the excellent read it would turn out to be. Again, I was initially interested in how the book was written.
Some of you know why I have an “additional interest” in how effective biographies are written. After Soul Shapers was published in 2005, having already begun interviewing him and researching his journey, I began writing the biography of William Glasser. He has been a significant thought leader in the fields of psychology and education and a prolific author and speaker for five decades. Trying to capture his 50 year career in a book, while accurately and effectively summarizing his progressive ideas, was a challenge. Not being a full-time writer I reached for writing moments between the demands of my day job, that being a college professor, and the needs of family and home. To bring you up to date, though, last summer I completed Glasser’s biography and in December I signed a contract with the Milton Erickson Foundation for them to publish the book. My goal was to write a biography that is interesting, so interesting that even a person not that familiar with William Glasser would want to finish reading the story. Hence, my additional interest. Time will tell whether I pulled it off.
Biographies can be fascinating. Every person, every one of us, has a story. We each are made up of drama, comedy, pain, victory, fear, joy, discouragement, and hope, to name a few of our ingredients. Describing such journeys is the biographer’s challenge. Every person’s story is important and C. S. Lewis was no different. It just so happens that, mostly because of his writing, many of us are interested in his life. We are interested in other things, too, and sometimes these interests can intersect and overlap, as they did for me in chapter two of the Lewis book. The chapter is titled The Ugly Country of England: Schooldays. (Lewis was Irish, which may partly explain the words Ugly and England being in the same title.) Because of my interest in Lewis, and my interest in effective school practices, and my interest in choice theory, the opening paragraph of the chapter caught my attention.
In 1962, Francine Smithline—a schoolgirl from New York—wrote to C. S. Lewis, telling him how much she had enjoyed his Narnia books and asking him for information about his own schooldays. In reply, Lewis informed her that he had attended three boarding schools, “of which two were very horrid.” In fact, Lewis continues, he “never hated anything as much, not even the front line trenches in World War I.”
I would like to think that Lewis was exaggerating, but it is possible he wasn’t. One of the schools had a controlling headmaster and such people can indeed be very horrid. Lewis admitted that he was shocked by the school’s brutality and “later dubbed the school “Belsen” after the infamous Nazi concentration camp. For me, I was struck by the potential of schools to be places of lifelong learning and joy, or places of drudgery and compliance. Referring to the latter –
Lewis recalled his education at Wynyard as the forced feeding and rote learning of a “jungle of dates, battles, exports, imports, and the like, forgotten as soon as learned and perfectly useless had they been remembered.”
As an educator (a teacher of teachers, no less) these descriptions jump out at me. I yearn for our future teachers (present teachers would be cool, too) to be a part of creating joyful classrooms where useful learning takes place, places that students will look back to fondly.
I greatly admire and respect C. S. Lewis, and I am interested in the story of Steve Jobs and the development of many of the electronic tools I have come to depend on, and I very much appreciate the candor of Andre Agassi, yet as important as each of these books are, I believe strongly that Glasser’s story is more important than any of them. I say that, not because of my involvement with the story, but because, as the developer of choice theory, Glasser explained the essence of human motivation and drew a map for personal responsibility and happiness. At a time when people are desperate for effective relationships and are craving personal fulfillment, choice theory is one of the best resources for charting a course toward a better tomorrow. (I am starting to sound like a brochure.)
Anyway, the Glasser manuscript is now being edited. There is no date yet for publication. Reading the life journeys of important, famous people can be interesting and even instructive (I certainly want the Glasser story to be instructive), yet these stories, other people’s stories, are not as important as your story. You are the author of your story, a story that is unfolding as we speak. With God’s help, I encourage you to Go For It!