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Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

January 29, 2010

This post is part of Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program. Have a blog? Like free books? Check this out.

I know this is so four months ago, but I just got a copy. Imagine my delight when I logged in to BookSneeze and found A Million Miles in a Thousand Years available for the taking. Jumped on it.

I have to confess, for starters, that I have not read Blue Like Jazz. I know that makes me less of a Christian, but I just haven’t gotten to it. Nevertheless, I’ve heard so much about it that I got excited about Don’s latest.

The book sat on my table for a couple of very busy days. When I finally grabbed it I thought, “I’ll just read the first chapter while the dryer finishes.” Ya right. Three sittings in twenty-four hours, and I closed the back cover and stared at the ceiling trying to grasp what I’d just experienced.

At first, Miller’s latest reminded me so much of Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl that as I read, I felt sorry for N. D. Wilson – who it seemed had essentially written the same book and gotten duped because he hadn’t first written Blue Like Jazz. The themes of both books are similar, but both are amazing in their own rights.

The subtitle to A Million Miles is, “What I learned while editing my life.” A pair of producers contact Miller about making a film based on Blue Like Jazz. The story has to be edited, we find out, because you can’t throw a book on a screen and expect it to work. Through A Million Miles, Miller learns the art of story-telling and discovers that his real life isn’t that interesting.

So he embarks on a couple of “practice stories.” Finding the father he never knew (or cared to), and hiking the Inca “Excruciating” Trail in Peru. A kayaking trip he didn’t want to take introduced him to one of the most fascinating men on the planet. Then, he realizes his story is good, but not worthy of an Academy Award. What makes a story (a life) epic?

His new producer friend explains that taking a story from good (where a character overcomes some conflict to get something) to epic changes two things: the risk and the reward. The character in a good epic story has to risk his very life (or close to it) and his goal has to be selfless.

So Miller starts The Mentoring Project through a strange encounter with a man in the Pacific Northwest who had recently purchased East Texas, and he rides a bicycle across the country to raise money for wells in Africa.

Along the way I laughed and cried and was forced to take a big step back to look at the story my life is telling. Miller is an unspeakably gifted writer, and the story of editing his life will change yours if you let it.

Quotes after the jump. “The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is ‘Do not fear.’ It’s in there over two hundred times. That means a couple of things, if you think about it. It means we are going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around. Before I realized we were supposed to fight fear, I thought of fear as a subtle suggestion in our subconscious designed to keep us safe, or more important, keep us from getting humiliated. And I guess it serves that purpose. But fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

“I was watching the movie Star Wars recently and wondered what made the movie so good. Of course, there are a thousand reasons. But I also noticed that if I pause the DVD on any frame, I could point toward any major character and say exactly what that person wanted. No character had a vague ambition. It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want.”

“He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.”

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