Idol Chatter

Perhaps what is so impressive about Donald Miller’s latest memoir “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life” is that Miller sets himself up for failure in so many different ways and yet the book is still a worthwhile – if not completely memorable- read for the millennials and Gen Xers who are Miller’s primary audience.
First, there’s the reality that for many readers nothing is going to measure up to Miller’s honest and unexpected bestselling memoir “Blue Like Jazz.” Even Miller readily admits in “A Million Miles” that the books he has written since “Blue Like Jazz” have not exactly been commercial hits so another memoir from a self-identified slacker dissatisfied with mainstream Christianity may not be what the literary market place is clamoring for anymore.
And then there’s the premise of “A Million Miles” which focuses on Miller’s reflections, experiences and lessons learned as he helps two filmmakers turn “Blue like Jazz” into a movie.The idea is that when the filmmakers tell Don that his life as originally told in “Blue LIke Jazz” would make a lousy movie and that Don should do some serious re-writing of his life, Miller does so literally and spiritually. Yet, to some who are cynical and might feel some of the book’s anecdotes are simplistic and contrived, this entire book could seem like nothing but shameless promotion for the yet-to-be-released movie.
But perhaps the biggest problem for some will be Miller’s use of the extended metaphor of living a life as a good story. For those spiritual seekers who have devoured everything writers like Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Patricia Hampl and others have had to say about the link between writing a good story and living a meaningful life, well, “A Million Miles” is something of a literary second cousin to these works.
Yet , I repeat, in spite of its flaws, ” A Million Miles” – in stores later this month- has some moments that shine, and it does indeed connect with those who feel adrift in their own lives. How do I know this for certain? Well, I did my own little experiment with the sample chapters from this book.

I allowed some college writing students of mine to read the sample chapters, They were a cross-section of students home for the summer from other major universities. We didn’t discuss anyone’s particular religious inclinations, but I gave them the plot set-up from “Blue Like Jazz” and then I let them read the chapters. They had already read Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” and Stephen King’s “On Writing.” But my students liked “A Million Miles” best of all. Some even thought he blew Anne Lamott away. They agreed that just like Miller, they were leading boring lives and they didn’t know what to do about it. They realized they, like Miller, often lacked the discipline to ask the important questions of life and hadn’t found the purpose that would make them the heroes of their own stories.
“A Million Miles” made me realize I am perhaps no longer the ideal target audience for Miller’s work that I once was and maybe that is why his latest didn’t fully resonate with me, However, there is no doubt in my mind that this book does have an audience who needs to read what Miller has to share. So I wouldn’t overlook Miller’s latest. I would just approach it with good, not great, expectations.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus