During the summer of 2000, I was browsing through a bookstore and came across a book entitled PRAYER AND THE ART OF VOLKSWAGEN MAINTENANCE. The title really piqued my curiosity and I bought the book. I really enjoyed reading it and I was eager to read more from the author, Donald Miller. It would be several years later before another of his books was published, BLUE LIKE JAZZ. That book went on to become a huge international best-seller (though I’m glad to say I read it and knew about Miller long before that book went mega). I’ve read most of Miller’s other works and was eagerly looking forward to reading his latest book, A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS.
The book revolves around Miller’s attempt to adapt BLUE LIKE JAZZ into a movie screenplay with the help of a couple of filmmaking friends. In the process of editing and fictionalizing his memoir into a screenplay, Miller begins looking at his own life and realizes that he can take some of the elements of writing a great screenplay and adapt them into real life. He makes a decision that he wants to not just tell good stories, but wants his life to actually be a great story. He takes a writing course, begins working out, travels overseas, rides his bike across the country, and eventually meets his father, a man who abandoned his family to fend for themselves when they needed him most.
Miller is a great writer. He has a way with words; he is able to paint extremely vivid pictures with his writing. He has a very personal, almost folksy approach to the way he writes. His style is very conversational and when he writes about “big picture” ideas, he doesn’t speak down. Instead, when reading Miller you feel like you are having a long conversation with an old teacher that you’ve always admired.
The central struggle in the book is an existential conflict that all those who wish to live a worthwhile life have to face at some point in their life. Life is difficult. Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes the good guy loses. These things are true. Knowing this, how do you choose to live? Do you simply exist, choosing to go through life as a series of motions because humans are just animals anyway? Or, do you choose to actually live, pressing the best out of each moment? Existing is easy living, truly living is difficult. No one will fault you if you choose to exist. However, if you choose to live, your life will be so much more rewarding.
With that said, the only criticism I have with A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS is that even though it is a story about Miller editing his own life to write and live a better story, there is a slight lack of relatability in the story. It’s great that Miller was able to do some of the amazing things he did in the book, such as taking a trip to South America and hiking in the Andes and riding his bicycle across America. When reading these things and how Miller approached them, you’ll be challenged to examine your own life and want to start making choices that will make your own life story better. However, not everyone is capable or can do the grand things Miller writes about that he or the people he meets do. It makes for great reading, but some of the ideas raised seem out of reach and unattainable by normal, regular people.
Overall, I enjoyed A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS. It’s a good follow-up to BLUE LIKE JAZZ, SEARCHING FOR GOD KNOWS WHAT, and TO OWN A DRAGON. Live a better life and write your own great story.