Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I didn't quite know what to expect from Donald Miller's brand new book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years." I read 'Blue Like Jazz', perhaps too quickly, and thought it interesting but not altogether helpful or compelling. But with the buzz surrounding his new book, I was glad to get an advance review copy from Thomas Nelson Publishers. The book far exceeded my expectations...

The subtitle itself tells a tale - "What I Learned While Editing My Life." Miller's new book actually is a story about becoming the editor for a screen adaptation of his previous book "Blue Like Jazz", which itself was a mixture of autobiography and philosophy. Essentially then, Miller gets the chance to "edit" his own life's story! In doing so he explores some fascinating ideas on what it means for your life to be a story, what makes for a good life story, and the relationship between a character in a story and the author (or in this case, Author).

Donald Miller's writing is very engaging; it really was difficult to put the book down. There was a compelling interplay between what was going on in his own mind, the travails of the main character's pseudo-life, and what it means for you the reader to be writing your own life story. It's rare for a story to be this effective in quietly encouraging the reader to examine his own life and where it's going. The phrase "the character is what he does" really struck me, as I'm a man too often caught up in reflection instead of action. The former if it does not lead to the latter, is of little value.

A key theme running throughout the book is that "at the heart of a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." Without the struggle, without the conflict, the story simply isn't worth telling. When I finished reading the book I was somewhat disappointed that there was not really any discussion about what constitutes a worthy goal for the character to pursue. If a person or a character wants something that is a selfish adventure or doesn't touch the lives of others, what kind of story is that? I felt that same unease I had while reading Blue Like Jazz - is it enough to point out problems without directing toward a solution? Ultimately, while that's an important question it's not the one Miller is looking to address in this book, so I won't hold it against him; I give it a full five-stars. My advice: Treat the book as a mirror, not a compass. Fans of Miller will love this book; those who've never heard of him or who had reservations about "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality" should still check it out. The potentially best thing about Miller's book is that it might offer you a second chance at life, the first time around.

You can read an excerpt from "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life", or you can find it at Amazon or other retailers.

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