I started reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years about a month ago, and I feel like it took me forever to get through it. Part of that is because I am usually reading a few books at the same time, but the other reason is because I felt like I started struggling with this one about halfway through. And as I sat down to write this review, I tried to figure out why.
I think the biggest reason is that the book is really many stories within a story. Donald Miller, the author, was approached to make a movie based on his memoir. And as he works to find stories and events that would translate well to the big screen, and really edit the story of his life, he finds that most of his every day moments aren’t big-screen worthy, so he sets out to live a better story, largely in an effort to make a better movie. So the book is all these little vignettes, as he makes different choices and embarks on new adventures (bike riding from Los Angeles to Washington DC, for example, and hiking in Machu Picchu in an effort to impress a girl). And, as you’re reading, they smack of flashbacks, and when it comes to television programs and movies, I’ve never been a fan of flashbacks. And I think that since that’s how it felt in this book, its choppiness distracted me.
That being said, I liked the underlying theme of the book and that’s what held me in until the end. The continuing thread throughout the book is about encouraging the reader to live a better story, and that “great stories go to those who don’t give in to fear.” And isn’t that the truth? Instead of sitting at home glued to his television, or sleeping in morning after morning, Miller began saying yes, surprising even himself sometimes, to things that he had never done before. Trying to get the attention of a girl he met out one night, he casually mentioned that he had always wanted to hike the Inca trail in Machu Picchu, thinking that it would grab her interest. She responded accordingly, and although he had never been to Peru before, nor hiked, there he was. Living a better story.
By rewriting his story and focusing on the necessary parts of (his own) character development, it caused Miller to re-examine his own life and what was missing from it. As a writer, he was writing about stories, but found that he wasn’t living his own, coming back to an empty house without a connection. He was too busy living his daydreams and not living his life.