Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

What makes a good story? What kind of story is God trying to write my life into? Am I cooperating with my life being a story worth reading, or am I fighting to remain in the "senseless, selfish ways of non-story"? Donald Miller wrestles through these questions in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The process of trying to turn a memoir about his life (Blue Like Jazz) into a movie script leads him to examine what makes stories work as stories. He reflects on what makes stories meaningful and then evaluates how that reflects back on the way that we live our lives. If stories are our lives with all the meaningless bits left out, is there a way to live our lives so that more of the meaningless bits are left out in the first place?

This book was far better than I'd hoped for. I wasn't a huge fan of Blue Like Jazz, but I'm a sucker for pretty much anything that deals with story structure and meta-story and that post-modern sense of the characters and writer interacting. (Think Stranger than Fiction.) Miller has all of that, but ruthlessly brings it down to the level of personal challenge. What am I going to do, what are you going to do, to write a better story with your life? How do we infuse our lives with meaning? Miller has grown up a lot as a writer and--apparently--as a human being in the years since Blue Like Jazz was published. There's less of his ego tangled up with his prose, making both for better prose and for less of an impression of a writer who needs his ego taken down a few notches. The book is somewhat slow for the first forty pages or so--don't judge the entire book by the sample section that's up on the publisher's website. It's the weakest section of the book. After reading a few pages here and a few pages there for a couple of weeks, I read the last two hundred pages more or less in one sitting. I'll also note that reading it side by side with Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl was a great experience. The two books are dealing with some similar themes from very different angles and inform each other well. Miller's conclusions, like his beginning, is not nearly as strong as his middle . . . but the man's trying to write an ending when he's still stuck living the middle of his own story. He can hardly be blamed for not having lived far enough to see the ending clearly yet. Especially in a book about living the middle more deliberately.

Four stars out of five
Reviewed for Thomas Nelson

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