The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)
For some reason, this quote from Thoreau kept whirling through my mind as I read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Please understand I am not putting Miller on the same level as Thoreau. That’s a judgment reserved for 155 years from now if people have random quotes from Miller’s writing popping up in their heads. I do, however, believe that Miller may have hit closer to the mark of reality in his description of the life of the average Jane like me. With apologies to Thoreau, desperation has an aura of action that most of us never take. We’re creatures of inaction, choosing the comfortable and familiar over the difficult and uncertain.
Donald Miller was handed the golden ticket out of a life of indifferent comfort when he was given the opportunity to turn his bestselling memoir, Blue Like Jazz, into a movie. Thanks to his realization, we are granted insight not just into how Don went from clicking through television channels to clicking off the miles on a cross-country bike ride but also how the elements of story can play out in our lives.
Scene after scene introduces the reader to memorable people who, knowingly or not, have chosen to live an interesting story. They’re people you want to meet. They’re people you half-believe you already know because of the way Don talks about his encounter with them. Miller’s cinematic descriptions make it almost too easy for the reader to be right there with him, whether he’s riding a kayak pulled by a pick-up on a snow-covered street or catching his first breathtaking glimpse of Macchu Pichu.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years reads how your best friend would sound if you were at the local coffee shop, reliving years of shared memories. It’s open without drifting into “TMI” territory; it’s heart-wrenching without being sappy and it’s eye-opening without being preachy.
Simply put, it’s a good story.