Thursday, January 7, 2010

Closing Thoughts: Through Painted Deserts

Pages: 256
Pages so far: 5403
Books so far: 15
Avg pages/book: 360.2

First: this book marks the quarter-way point in the list. Whoo!

Second: I've gone from working on five books back down to one! Huzzah!


I think I mentioned this in my initial thoughts, but when I was a kid I read A Walk Across America, a book about a disillusioned young man, college-aged, who took up a challenge to walk across the country and discover what was really out there. (This was in the Cold War years, I don't remember exactly when) Along the way, he met quite a few friends, lost a dog, found peace in God through Jesus Christ, and met his wife. And that was before he hit the halfway point (which was roughly where the book ended)

Miller's book is really pretty similar. Unlike his other books, it doesn't try to give you great theological significance in each chapter; as Miller says at the end of his Acknowledgements: "I wanted to take a break from the deep theological stuff and just take you on an old journey I took once and introduce you to some wonderful people." And write run-on sentences. ;-) So first and foremost, this is a road trip book, and while it's not necessarily a great road trip book, it has some really nice moments.

The rambling, wandering feel to the book made it difficult for me to get in to. However, the rambling, wandering feel to the book was kind of the point of the whole thing, so I think that's just a matter of taste. The primary through-line of the narrative is the story of a fairly shallow 21-year-old from Houston (hey!) realizing that life is much bigger than he is and that God is good. Twenty-one-year-old Miller struggles with a lot of the same questions young Christians struggle with, and as the later chapters of the book unfold it's neat to see how God patiently unfolds Himself to Miller. What makes it work, in this case, is that the book is not a work of fiction, but a testimony. I've always enjoyed testimonies, moreso than I generally enjoy road trip books.

In my mind, the book starts kind of weak, picks up right around the time they leave the Grand Canyon, briefly loses its way again, and then ends strong both spiritually and storytelling-wise. I think, if I had discovered this book seven or eight years ago, it would probably be one of my favorites to this day. As it is, I had some trouble getting in to it at times, but it was definitely one of those books you have to smile at when you put it down at the end.

Side note, only somewhat connected to the book itself: I always read the author acknowledgments these days. Interesting how the author starts out thanking people individually for specific tasks, and then eventually there's always just a paragraph or two of names with no description, as if they realized how much space this is going to take if they thank everyone specifically. Still, I read each name knowing that, while they were as foreign to me as characters in a novel I've never read, each one represented an identity, a friendship, a history, and a series of memories. And I realized how greatly I hope to one day read one o' them acknowledgment pages and know every single face associated with every name on the printed page. That would/will be awesome.

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