Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I am a huge fan of Don Miller's book Blue Like Jazz. I'm not really sure why, exactly, other than it tells a very interesting story about Miller's life and struggles that I could, in some ways, identify with. As much as I liked it, I never got around to pick up a copy of any of his other books.

Until I got a chance to get his newest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Why was this one different? I wasn't really sure until I opened it up and started reading it. I literally had a hard time putting it down.

In this book, Miller gets to "edit his life" when two filmmakers approach him about making a movie around the story in "Blue Like Jazz." In this process, Miller learns a little about screenwriting, something about stories, and a lot about what life is and can be. Through the process of developing "movie Don", Miller tells us what he learned about character arcs, saving the cat, plot structure, struggle, and obstacles. Most importantly, he tells us about how story plays such a major role in the lives we have and choose to lead.

But "Million Miles" isn't a screenwriting, or any kind of writing, handbook. It is a story about Miller's life and, through the universal themes God has written on our hearts, a story about our own lives. That is the real appeal of the book overall; it is as much about the reader s it is about Miller. Sure the book has the details of Miller's story, but it could just as easily be the details of my story. The key is in the story structure. This came clear to me when Miller talks about how Jason saved his family.

Miller's friend Jason is having problems with his teenage daughter. She is dating the guy that no Dad likes, being generally rebellious, and may be experimenting with drugs. Jason and his wife have tried grounding her and strong arm discipline only to make the matters worse. Miller suggest something that gets Jason's attention - "I said his daughter was living a terrible story." Jason wants to know more.
To be honest, I didn't know exactly what I meant. I probably wouldn't have said it if I hadn't just returned from the McKee seminar. But I told him about the stuff I'd learned, that the elements of a story involve a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it... "[S]he's just not living a very good story. She's caught up in a bad one." I said a lot of other things and he kept asking questions.

A couple of months later I ran into Jason and asked about his daughter. "She's better," he said to me, smiling. And when I asked why, he told me his family was living a better story.

The author goes on to tell how Jason decided that his family was going to tackle the cause of orphans around the world. He told his wife and daughter that their family was going to raise the $25,000 needed to build an orphanage. It would be hard because they had a second mortgage and no extra money. But the struggle against this obstacle brought out the character in the members of Jason's family. His daughter was part of a better story. She wanted something and overcame obstacle to get it. Jason's daughter broke up with the boyfriend. As Jason says, "No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while."

And that turned on a light for me. Jason decided that his family needed a better story. So he was intentional in giving them one. He didn't re-write the story that had gone before and he didn't try to overthrow the ultimate authorship of God. What he did was step into the role of Father and Husband as it was originally written. And when Jason did that, he helped his daughter move into the role written for her - confident, strong, loved.

It is this kind of "everyday profound" that keeps you pulled into this book. Miller's stories about the people in his life and his stories about his struggle to get into a better story himself can make you ponder your own story. It can cause you to think about the role you are playing and the obstacles that are there (or why they don't seem to be there).

And even if you don't get into the self-reflective aspect here, you will likely enjoy the tales of Miller and the people he knows.

It turns out, Don Miller can tell a story...

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a 2 free copies of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.


Bubba said...

Seriously. Read the others. You'll love 'em.