A Review of Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
While trying to come up with books to review, I discovered that I have a few that I just can’t get enough of. Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is one of those books. I’ve only read it through one time, but I’ve picked it up and read bits and pieces here and there since then, simply because it is so full of insight.
Donald Miller tends to be somewhat sarcastic, sometimes snarky, and self-depreciating. While in his earlier books these characteristics got to be tedious, making me cringe to read the mean things he said to the people he encountered, this book is less filled with those things and more focused on changing his story. I must say that throughout his previous work he was honest about being a jerk, though, and most of the jerks I know don’t realize it about themselves. Anyway, it sounds like he needed the change, and we get to be a party to the steps of his transformation.
The part that jumps out at me when thinking about this book is the point he makes and proves with his own life about choosing one’s story. He gets off his couch and starts challenging himself to do some crazy stuff that he’s never done before, stuff that he is scared of, stuff he’s not sure he can actually do. And we get the privilege of watching what happens to him. It’s great. But besides the voyeuristic pleasure there is in hearing about this guy joining a group to ride across the country on a bicycle with very little advanced training (just as one example), we get to see how this changes who he is, changes his story. And it is more than just “creating memories” although there is value in that aspect as well. He discovers things about himself and about others that he never would have known if he hadn’t made the essential decision to take a risk and invest in his own story, his own life.
Just to give you one little snipett, in one portion of the book he re-tells a scene that happened to a friend of his who had a teen-aged daughter who was making crummy choices: dating a questionable guy, telling lies, and generally veering from the path her parents had laid out for her. The dad reviews the situation and realizes that he has not offered his daughter a better story to be a part of. Then he does something about it. He offers his daughter the chance to be a part of something better, something more meaningful and interesting and worthwhile. And she quits her previous behaviors and jumps in to this new endeavor with both feet.
I love it. I loved the imagery of the adventures Miller and his friends take on. Even though the book includes a lot of sitting around or waking up late and then sitting around, this helps to contrast Miller’s old life with the one he is striving to create for himself. Which of us makes a resolution and immediately casts off our old habits or vices? That’s what makes this book authentic. The author doesn’t pretend that he has immediately arrived once he decides to liven things up, and that gives me more of a chance to connect with him and what he’s trying to accomplish; I too have tried to turn over many new leaves, only to find them flipped back over a few weeks later. But Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is good at inspiring me to flip over just one leaf and see what that can do for me and those around me; my family and friends, even those I meet just in passing. It challenges me to be purposeful about my life and decide consciously what I want it to be about.
It’s a worthy read, and one that I think you’ll come back to over and over again.
Mostly Just Fluff: A Review of Karen Kingsbury’s Like Dandelion Dust
The author of this book makes sure that the readers all know it has been made into a Hollywood movie. Did you see it? The book claims it came out in August of 2010, but I sure didn’t see anything about it, even though the book cover highlights the fact that the movie version stars two nominees/winners of prestigious acting awards.
And that’s how we start the book Like Dandelion Dust, with pages of dedications, thank-yous, and self-congratulating acknowledgements. Now, I don’t see this as an over-arching pet peeve of mine, but I do find it a bit tacky to drag out the beginning of a book in this way. It requires the reader to page through extra material in order to even find the first page of the story. I wish she had included it in the back of the book, rather than assuming that I am one of her loyal readers who feel an emotional attachment to her career. If a book is worth it, I will read these types of things in the back once I’m done reading it. But to place them ahead of the story seems presumptuous.
Is the book worth the trouble of flipping the extra pages to find the beginning? Well, sure, I guess. How’s that for a half-hearted endorsement? On the one hand, I read it quickly since the story moved along and it had a very limited number of characters. In that sense, she made some smart, strong choices: characters with definite personalities, a terrible crisis they had to face, growing tension between the characters, and a pleasing denouement.
However, there was a cute kid at stake, which seems like a cheap shot to me – I mean, what heartless cynic would you have to be to not be moved by hardship experienced by a child? I know that Kingsbury wanted to connect with the emotions of her readers, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad bit manipulated, even as I felt bad for the poor kid and the situation he and his family faced.
It was clear that Karen Kingsbury wanted the characters to struggle with their relationships with one another and with God, which I’m all for, but the treatment she gives God is abbreviated and doesn’t go into much real detail. I thought the way she handled the child’s interest in God was the most accurate, an organic growth from a single seed of observation. The adults are more herky-jerky, falling into more stereotypical roles – even when these stereotypes are true to life they can still be written with more attention to the specific individual and why that person holds that viewpoint. Oh! I almost forgot one more detail: on page 223 there is a glaring mistake. Suddenly Bill’s wife and Molly’s sister is referred to as Brenda. Before and after this, she is called BETH. Big whoops. I figure that if I, the reader, can catch this, the people making their living by proofreading novels really should have seen it.
All in all, the book was light entertainment, much like a soap opera when there’s nothing else to watch on a summer afternoon. It has some action, intrigue, and stories, and if that’s what you’re looking for, this will do you fine.