When I first began working at the Trinity Bookstore in 2004, Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz had been out for a few months and was just beginning to catch on via the best advertising of all, positive word-of-mouth. I grabbed it off the shelf, read it, lovedlovedloved it, and foisted it on all sorts of unsuspecting customers and fellow staffers. Miller’s irreverently reverent, messy journey and distinctive writing voice resonated with me.
It resonated with hundreds of thousands of others. The book was an evangelical publishing phenomenon, and turned Miller into a Name. His follow-up releases (including a revision of a book he’d penned prior to writing Blue Like Jazz) were good, but never quite captured the evangelical cultural ennui of his big breakout book.
It was only a matter of time before someone, somewhere decided to obtain movie rights to Miller’s seminal spiritual memoir. Blue Like Jazz was a series of colorful episodes strung together like mismatched beads. In fact, the book’s subtitle is “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality”; not exactly a recipe for a movie plot. But the people who optioned the film rights sent a couple of writers to work with Miller to pull story out of “nonreligious thoughts”. His new book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, tells the story of what happened to him during this process.
I kind of expected this book to be a self-indulgent exercise, to be frank. Come on – a book about turning a best seller about your life into a movie about your life? I wondered if Miller’s writing career and/or ego had jumped the shark.
Though there are whiffs of self-indulgence here and there, they are mercifully faint. What is here is a valuable first-person exploration of the components of story as Miller was learning and living them. A Million Miles In A Thousand Years is an enjoyable read for anyone involved in storying: pastors, writers, teachers, visual communicators. It provides a few ah-ha! moments about the elements of story applied to life from the pen of a really good writer who is willing, once again, to tell his own story to all of us.