A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: A Book Review

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (2009) is a really unusual book. I didn’t love the writer’s style. There were moments when the detail felt excessive and I was a bit bored. But the premise of the book? The premise was brilliant and thought-provoking and inspiring. I don’t know if I’ll ever read another book by Donald Miller, but I’m very glad to have read this one. Let me tell you about it using the #FridayBookShare template that I used for this review and for this one.

First Line of the Book

Rather than the first line, here is the author’s note from the beginning of the book. It does a great job of introducing Miller’s theme.

If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living these stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.

Do you wait for things to happen, or do you make them happen yourself? I believe in writing your own story.

Charlotte Eriksson

Recruit Fans by Adding the Book Blurb

After writing a successful memoir, Donald Miller’s life stalled. During what should have been the height of his success, he found himself unwilling to get out of bed, avoiding responsibility, even questioning the meaning of life. But when two movie producers proposed turning his memoir into a movie, he found himself launched into a new story filled with risk, possibility, beauty, and meaning.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller’s rare opportunity to edit his life into a great story, to reinvent himself so nobody shrugs their shoulders when the credits roll. Through heart-wrenching honesty and hilarious self-inspection, Donald Miller takes readers through the life that emerges when it turns from boring reality into a meaningful narrative.

Miller goes from sleeping all day to riding his bike across America, from living in romantic daydreams to fearful encounters with true love, from wasting his money to founding a nonprofit with a passionate cause. Guided by a host of outlandish but very real characters, Miller shows us how to get a second chance at life the first time around. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a rare celebration of the beauty of life.

Introduce the Main Character Using Only Three Words

Donald Miller is self-deprecating, introspective and honest.

Delightful Design (Add the Cover Image)

cover of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Audience Appeal

If, like me, you are fascinated by story, I think you would enjoy this book. Or if you are searching for meaning, give it a read.

Miller is a Christian writer published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian press. However, if that’s not your cup of tea, you’ll be pleased to know that, as one reviewer put it, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is “Jesus-lite.”

Your Favourite Line or Scene

Early in the book, Miller attends a screenwriting course taught by the legendary Robert McKee. McKee teaches him the principles of a good story, principles that Miller then tries to apply to his life. stone sculpture of ancient bearded storyteller with book in hand

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation.” (p.68)

“…your protagonist has to do something good. He can be crabby and have a drinking problem and even be a bit of a jerk, but unless he does something good, the audience won’t want things to work out for him, and they’ll lose interest in your story.” (p.81)

“…humans naturally seek comfort and stability. Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won’t enter into a story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon. A ring has to be purchased. A home has to be sold. The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.” (p.104-105)

“The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories, and if we want a Roomba (vacuum cleaner), we are living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in life. (p.124-125)

“…once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time. The more practice stories I lived, the more I wanted an epic to climb inside of and see through till its end.” (p.155)

Imagine producers showing up at your home, wanting to make a movie of your life. Would your story need a lot or a little editing to make it movie worthy?

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  1. I loved the way you critiqued this book. It certainly makes you think more about what you are reading. It is true, unless the story has some dramatic detail, I find it boring and it makes me think about things I would rather be doing. I love a book that is very involved in life whatever it may be for the person and if it captures you and you want to keep reading, that is even better.

  2. Interesting comment, Gerri. I realize from your comment that I enjoy memoirs precisely because they are dramatic stories of a person’s life. I think I’ll need to do some blog posts about memoirs soon!

  3. First off, Karen, I love, love, love the pictures you added to this post. I saved them to my Pinterest board.

    Now, to the book review. I really like this book review template because it helps not spoil anything for someone who has not read the book yet (something I dread doing). The premise of this book does indeed sound brilliant. Didn’t Jim Carey do a movie once with this kind of a theme? The Truman Show. was it? Yes, his movie was turning his life into a tv show and not a movie but it is a close comparison to this book I think.

    If producers showed up at my door wanting to make my life into a movie I would think my story would need just a little editing to be movie worthy and enticing enough to hold an audience’s attention. I have lived through a lot and have often said that were I to write my memoirs a librarian would not know whether to shelve it in the fiction or non-fiction section of the library. LOL 😉

    1. Hi Susan, I love the pictures too. Thanks for commenting on them.

      I’d forgotten about The Truman Show. Definitely a good comparison.

      Here’s another interesting quote from the book that might help as you contemplate all you have lived through:
      “The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person…You put your characters through hell. You put them through hell. That’s the only way we change.” (p.180)
      Maybe it’s time to start writing your memoirs?

      1. Thanks, Karen, for encouraging me to start writing. I have had other people tell me that my story would encourage others in similar situations to the ones I found myself in. My story would let them know they are not alone in what they are going through and that if I can come out the other side and have a much better life then they can too. Thanks for the additional quote from the book. It certainly does apply to my life, going through hell did change me. As much as I thought it would destroy me when I was going through it, in the end, it made me oh so much stronger. Thanks for the encouragement maybe I will start writing. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Karen! A post from you on writing memoir will be a great resource as I get started on writing my own memoir. I am constantly amazed at how thorough a job you do when researching a topic. I look forward to reading that post when you can get to it. 😀

  4. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.

    This sentence made me stop and think. The trick is to figure out what is “meaningful” in life and, therefore, in a movie. I need to figure out if what I have done with my life is meaningful or not. Just because I may have done a lot of things doesn’t mean my life has been meaningful. I once worked with a principal who told me that the stuff that continues after you have left the building is worthwhile. I think that relationships and connections are meaningful. More thought is needed!

    1. Ah, Fran, I can so clearly hear the ponderings of an intelligent, introspective woman getting ready for her second retirement. I wish that I could be there for your retirement speech. Will you maybe consider posting it afterwards as a segment of your tribe story? You are a woman of profound thought (I sound like a fortune cookie.) and your reflections would be really interesting.

  5. Great book review, Karen. You have intrigued me to want to read this book.
    BTW – If the Roomba purchased developed a life of its own that then began a series of adventures…that could be interesting!

    1. The pixar lamp that comes to life immediately comes to mind, Donna. You may have something here. It would be fun to get a free Roomba from the manufacturer so it can star in its own animated feature film. I see an Oscar in your future, Donna!

  6. That sounds like an interesting book – well worth a look.

    I really hope you will write that post (or two or three) about writing memoirs. I’m not sure I have one in me, but I am interested in learning about the process, structure, etc.

    I love that garden sculpture… is it yours?

    1. A request from you and from Susan for memoir posts. I am so going to do them very soon! Thanks for letting me know you are interested.

      I love the sculpture too, Janis. I only wish that it were mine. I found it on the stock photo site, Pixabay.

  7. He was a lucky man Karen – he found a new calling and evidently it gave him a new lease on life. I’m going to see if I can get that book from the library.

  8. Karen, this sounds like a fascinating premise for a book, and one that could be very inspiring. I am curious about what you didn’t like about the book – what left you feeling a bit ambivalent?


    1. Hi Jude,
      I did love the premise of the book and, for my rating on Goodreads I gave it a 4 out of 5. My ambivalence came because of sections where the detail dragged down the writing and made it seem a bit plodding. Here’s an example:
      “Experiences are random,” I repeated.
      “Noise,” Ben said.
      “Noise,” I repeated.
      “That’s brilliant, right?” I asked Ben.
      “Probably,” Ben said.
      “Are we still talking about the movie?” Steve asked.
      “I don’t know,” Ben said after a moment of silence.

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