By: Charles W. Shirriff
Publication Date: January 2009
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: April 2009
Grab a cup of coffee, settle in to a cozy armchair, and enjoy a fireside chat with author Charles W. Shirriff as he recounts the events of his long, lively, and many times hysterically funny, life.
It’s Not Where You’re Going-It’s How You Get There relates Shirriff’s life from his humble farm boy beginnings on a drought plagued farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, to his jobs and travels throughout Canada and the United States. The author first devotes a chapter to one of his favorite subjects – cars. Shirriff briefly mentions his “car-deprived years,” but focuses on those far more fulfilling times when he had an automobile. A theme quickly becomes obvious; Shirriff loved buying cheap cars, using them for a few years, and then selling them to friends for $1.
The autobiography next follows the author’s early life, through school, his first jobs, and then his 35 year teaching stint at the Portage Collegiate Institute near Winnipeg, Canada. It is clear that Shirriff is a bright individual as he sailed through school, although he admits that it was “astonishingly boring” thus, teachers would think he was uninterested. He also had a tendency to discover errors in teachers’ problem solutions which certainly didn’t endear him to many instructors. During summer breaks and the early years after graduation, Shirriff had a series of unusual and quite interesting jobs. He worked in a mental hospital, a mine, and then, as a meteorologist “…measuring the thickness of the upper air ozone layer.” This job required living in a remote area, accessible only by train. Shirriff’s description of the Northern Lights and the sounds they made, “…crackling sounds as if the entire sky were having a short-circuit,” makes the episode come to life for the reader.
Unlike many autobiographies that go into painstaking detail about every little episode in the author’s life, It’s Not Where You’re Going-It’s How You Get There avoids that pitfall and instead devotes just the right amount of text to each important experience. Shirriff dedicates just one chapter to his 35 years at Portage Collegiate Institute, and then, as he does for several chapters, includes short vignettes highlighting some of his more memorable incidents.
Another key element in making It’s Not Where You’re Going-It’s How You Get There an autobiography that people will want to read is that the author is very funny. Shirriff has an entertaining, self-deprecating style that keeps the reader laughing throughout this book. In the first chapter, he tells of the day he was driving along the highway with his mother in their 1929 Model A Ford. Driving along, his mother noticed “…a wheel rolling merrily across the ditch and through the field.” Deciding they should stop, the pair exited the car and noticed the left rear wheel missing. Off Shirriff went, chasing the tire. Another story is told of a teaching stint where the author was both teacher and principal. Like all schools, he had plenty of forms to fill out but “…I just pretended I knew what I was doing and filled the forms out as I saw fit.” That was, until he received a rather critical letter from the Department of Education. It’s Not Where You’re Going-It’s How You Get There is abundant with such stories and will have the reader chuckling along and wishing that the author was a nightly dinner guest.
Quill says: If you’re looking for a lively and engaging book about the good old days, pick up a copy of It’s Not Where You’re Going- It’s How You Get There.
For more information on It’s Not Where You’re Going-It’s How You Get There, please visit the author’s website at: www.Shirriff.org