Home > Book, Genre, memoir, Religion, Review > Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Yellow and black art on a book cover.Summary:
In this memoir Donald Miller recalls how turning his previous memoir into a movie impacted his life.  When working on the script, Donald learned what makes a good story and started applying it to his current life.  He went from sitting on the couch all day watching tv to biking across the country to raise money for clean water in Africa.

Review:
This book could have been brilliant.  It contains various clear information on what makes a good story that is quite useful to writers.  It also is inspirational in asking us to stop watching characters live stories and live our own.  Unfortuantely, Miller persists in plopping in his spiritual ideas, which tend toward the mainstream Christian variety.  I don’t mind skimming over a few praise God’s.  I do, however, get profoundly irritated when a writer goes from saying something meaningful like life is about what we learn and not about achieving something in particular to saying that the people with the worst lives have it the best because they’ll appreciate heaven more. Um, excuse me, what the hell?!  It’s such an odd mental position to take.  Can you imagine saying that to someone with AIDs or a starving child or someone who’s being abused?  Then, to take the mental oddness further, he goes on to seek to help people better their lives.  That’s great that he does that, but it seems that based on his theory that a rough life leads to a better after-life that he’s just stealing a good after-life from these people.  My brain hurts just thinking about that mind-fuck.

I guess what made the book such a frustrating read for me is that I can see Miller being so close to a humanist view but then ruining his current life by pining for the after-life.  He talks a lot about what makes a good story but I bet even he could see that a movie wouldn’t be any fun if a character spends the whole film pining for something that he isn’t sure is actually going to happen to the extent that he misses things happening right now.

That said, the book is well-written and does contain some memorable scenes and people.  Actually, I wish the book had been about some of the people featured in it in lieu of Miller, such as the family that went around interviewing world leaders with their children or the man who went from a childhood in the ghetto to running a law firm to running a mentoring program.  At least we get to hear a bit about them though.

On the other hand, Miller’s view of the world tends to rip you from the story and make you want to smack him upside the head.  Like when he tells the story of how a man stole his ex-girlfriend’s cat and then told her on the phone he was going to hurt it if she didn’t come back to him then proceeded to squeeze the cat until it cried.  Miller called this “depravingly charming” (219).  Um, no, it’s awful!  And Miller finds this story inspiring because the man “found Jesus” and “changed.”

It basically reads almost as if two different people wrote the memoir.  One who recognizes we have one life to live and it’s better to live it doing things than sitting on the couch.  The other spends his time with his head in the clouds hoping for the after-life and believing in the power of a dead man.  If you can handle the cognitive dissonance in those two stances, you’ll enjoy the book as it is written well.  If you find it as troubling as I do, though, you should skip it.

2.5. out of 5 stars

Source: Won from Minski of okay, peanut

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  1. June 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    He sounds like that person you want to shove out the door at funerals for saying inappropriate things like “you should be happy” or “it’s for the best.” Definitely won’t be reading this one, though many of my more religious friends loved Blue Like Jazz.

    • June 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm

      Hahaha! Yes, I’d say that’s a perfect description of how he comes across in the book.

      After writing my own review, I checked out reviews by religious folk. Their consensus seems to be that this book was a let-down after Blue Like Jazz. I’m not sure how non-religious people would enjoy Blue Like Jazz, however. I didn’t see any non-religious reviewers mention it.

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