A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life is Donald Miller's latest exploration of the soul and a life well-lived. Miller sticks close to the writer's maxim, "write what you know." He knows nothing better than himself, so he writes about his inner struggles, insecurities, relationship
Navel gazing as art is tough. Who wants to pay to look at your disgusting navel with you? That's why there are so many blogs, like mine, that don't make any money or get many visitors. It's not that Miller has a more interesting navel, he's forthright that it's average and stinky and linty, but he can describe it with humor and a clear eye. His writing flows smoothly and reads quickly. I received the book, free for review, on my 40th birthday from Thomas Nelson Publishers through their reviewer program called Book Sneeze. If I didn't have a family to celebrate the day with, I would have finished it the same evening.
The premise of the book is that a director, Steve Taylor, who I wrote about recently, seeks to turn Miller's break-out book, Blue Like Jazz, into a movie. However, Miller learns that navel gazing does not translate into good cinema. The book needs to conform to the structure of a story arc. In the process, Miller learns that his real life has no story arc either. He is having an early mid-life crisis. He's fat and lazy and lousy at his relationships with girls. Through a series of inspirational speakers, movie writing, casual conversations, and physical challenges he begins to add quality to the story arc of his real life. It's as if Steinbeck took his Travels with Charley, see my book report, 50 years earlier in his life. Except...Miller isn't Steinbeck. Halfway into the book, I looked up from the pages, as Miller was discussing life as a story whose author is God, and said to my wife, "I've read this all before." In fact, in another book I reviewed for Nelson, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, by N. D. Wilson, the same metaphor was used and expounded. I wonder if Nelson had the same editor working with both authors.
An important difference between Miller and Steinbeck and Wilson and myself is Miller is the unmarried one without children. I could enjoy, vicariously, his travels across the country on a bicycle to raise money for kids and a hike to Machu Picchu for fun and to impress a girl, but that lack of responsibility for another makes his life so different from Steinbeck's, who pines for his wife and has her meet him on the west coast mid-trip. Steainbeck feeds Charley and takes breaks on the road for Charley to sniff and pee. Likewise, Wilson has small children that he concerns himself with as well as a wife who he loves. I didn't even have the freedom to read a book for 4 hours straight through, because my wife and children all make claims on my time. These are the good things Miller can't share from his single guy navel. I look forward to the writing of Miller after he marries and has several young mouths to feed. He probably does as well.
FWIW, I've written earlier about Miller and his political involvement with Barack Obama.