The Death of Biography

I’ve recently begun an excellent biography of one of my favorite writers (if not my favorite): C. S. Lewis. Specifically, the bio is Alister McGrath’s “C. S. Lewis: A Life.”

CSLewisBookCoverNow, I’m barely a 10th of the way through the book, but I was struck by the detail and the accuracy of the narrative. Most of these details, like with many great biographies, are gleaned from Lewis’ personal letters (correspondences with family and friends) and diary. And this simple fact got me thinking about the future of biographies.

In a world of Twitter, Facebook, and an overabundance of the trivial, it seems that biographers will have slim pickins in 50 years. We will be left with very bland, impersonal biographies. We will be stuck with celebrity and political biographies which do little more than skim the headlines. We don’t write letters any more, we don’t write in diaries any more, and biographers will be left in the dark, without access to phone records, text message histories, and Facebook and email archives. In other words, biographies as we know them will be neutered and lifeless (in other words, dead).

What Then Shall We Do?

So, write letters to your kids, begin a journal, pick up a pen and paper, and reflect deeply upon your joys and your sorrows. You probably won’t have a biography written about you, but I’m sure your kids or your grandkids will love opening up that old chest and finding a stack of letters. Buy a nice pen and a Moleskin and go to town. Leave a legacy of letters, words on a page, which will live forever.

Any time somebody says something is “dead” they’re often wrong, and I hope for all of our sake I am that: dead wrong. Only time will tell.