So, I gave up on a book.
There have been several books over the past couple of years that I've said, "I'll give it to page 100, and then I'll decide whether I want to finish it or not." And up to now, I've always finished them, even the ones I haven't particularly liked.
This time, however, I closed a book for the last time on page 106. And it really wasn't a bad book. I was just ready to move on, so I did.
So what was the book in question, the first book to fail the one-hundred page test? Surprisingly, it was The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God by Brent Curtis and John Eldridge. I know a lot of people who loved this book. And it's a book that I found myself agreeing with on a conceptual level most of the time. Which is probably why it started boring me: Curtis and Eldridge weren't exactly telling me things I hadn't already thought of. I remember having a similar feeling when I read Wild at Heart in college, though I didn't have a book of borrowed books waiting when I read that one so I plowed through it anyway. And besides, my fiance had asked me to read it so we could talk about it. This time, though, it felt like we weren't covering any new territory, and it was taking a long time to not cover new territory, and the pages of rhetorical questions were also grating on my nerves just a bit, so I dropped it. No hard feelings, John and Brent.
Oh, and please stop referencing Paradise Lost as a primary source. I like Paradise Lost, but I'm not ready to say, "See? This is so totally what actually happened!"
That said, I did take one very good point out of reading Sacred Romance. And then I found the same point put much more succinctly in the next book that I picked up (and devoured in three days).
A Million Miles in a Thousand Days
What I Learned While Editing My Life
by Donald Miller
Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2009
(Amazon tells me this edition was 288, but I just read it last night and I know it was nowhere near that many, so 254 is a pretty good estimate. If I'm way off, I'll just edit this when I get home)
A little over a year ago, I read Miller's Through Painted Deserts. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't a book that really stuck with me.
This book sticks with me.
It's also the perfect thing to read right after Hornby's A Long Way Down. Hornby wrote a story about four fairly pathetic people whose lives are going nowhere. Eventually, they become less miserable. Miller writes about himself and the point when he realized that his life was going nowhere in spite of his recent notable successes as an author, speaker, and Christian celebrity. See, Miller wrote this other book, Blue Like Jazz, that lots and lots of twenty- and thirty-somethings absolutely loved. One day years later, he received a phone call from a movie producer (who happens to be one of my favorite songwriters, oddly enough) who wanted to make his book into a movie. Blue Like Jazz was sort of an autobiographical series of thoughts and essays on religion in general and Christianity in specific, so the producer and Miller had to work to put together a story that would make an interesting movie out of intellectual and spiritual ramblings. In the process, Miller decided that his real life--get up, write something, piddle around for awhile, go back to bed--made for a boring story. And as he started learning more about what it takes to craft a great story, he started applying those principals to his life. The process of examination and application transformed him into a new man. And out of that came this fantastic book.
Obviously, this book really hit home to me as a writer, a believer, and a man seeking new adventures in the year to come. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly what in this book spoke most directly to me without writing a 10-page paper on it. At points, it was a refresher on writing technique. At points, it offered insight into my own spiritual life. At points, it almost read like a personal life pep-talk. But really, it was just one guy being real and saying, "Look, we can all change the stories of our lives. But to do it, we really have to do it." In a way, Miller's story felt like the most healthy mid-life crisis a man could possibly have.
Unlike in Painted Deserts, Miller really tackles some tough stuff with this book. You can really tell the growth, not of the writer, but of the story's protagonist. Which is, of course, the point. The book doesn't have a strong vibe of "Hey, I did it, and you can, too!" Though really, that's what it's saying. Now that I think of it, this really is the best type of autobiographical story. It's self aware without being obnoxiously so; the author never speaks as though he has the great hope or the answers to all of his readers' great struggles. He tells his story simply and honestly, and the story itself holds a mirror to my own life and my own perceptions, and I am left with the question, "What am I to do with what I've just read?"
I'm not going to get all cheesy here. I'm not going to say "This book changed my life!" But it has certainly changed my week. And that's significant enough. If nothing else, it's re-opened my mind to the possibility that I have got choices. I've kind of come to see myself as "locked in" to the life I'm living. But I'm not. Not really. Not if I want badly enough to change it. Miller may have a great point in his thesis that the same elements that create meaningful stories and be applied to any human life.
Oh, and that one point that I mentioned I took away from both Curtis/Eldridge and Miller? Sacred Romance said it thus: that so often we consider God to be the Author of our story rather than realizing we are all characters with Him in His story. Miller put it this way: you are a tree in a forest, and the story about the forest is always better than the story about a tree.
Either way, it's all about perspective. And perspective, or lack thereof, is why Hornby's characters will end up at the top of the building every six months, why Eldridge's audience needs their hearts reawakened to the Sacred Romance, and why Don Miller was able to write himself into a better story than he had been living.
Well, it seems everything in my life is currently conspiring to get me thinking about life, death, adventure, family, and storytelling these days. I suppose there are far worse things to ruminate upon.