Walking into a bookstore is always dangerous for me. I will inevitably find at least five titles I want to read, curse myself for not being able to read faster and choose one that was a serendipitous find…one that I must read, even though the stack of unread books in my apartment is way too high. All that to say (and I fully realize that I am an over-sharer of background information in my story telling) I purchased a hard cover book for the first time maybe ever this fall, I forgot to post about it and it relates to what I had to say about The Age of Innocence. So.
Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz was published the same year I moved to New York (2003) and came at a perfect time: his thoughts on the Christian faith seemed so refreshing and real, something I desperately needed as I left behind the comforts and sometimes small world setting of southwestern Ohio, despite my deep deep love for it. I hadn’t read a book about faith since Henri Nouwen’s Compassion last February and honestly didn’t really have a desire to. But then I saw Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years newly placed on a shelf, I bought it on impulse and read it in three days.
What drew me to it initially is the entire premise is structured around the concept of story: a character, a character who wants something, a characters who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Miller writes about what he learned after he started working with two men who wanted to turn Blue Like Jazz into a movie:
“In a pure story,” Steve said like a professor, “there is purpose in every scene, in every line of dialogue. A movie is going somewhere.”
“What Steve is trying to say,” Ben spoke up, “is that your real life is boring.”
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but it’s obvious now that in creating the fictional Don, I was creating the person I wanted to be, the person worth telling stories about. It never occured to me that I could re-create my own story, my real life story.
I think the reason I was not interested in reading books about faith is because I grew tired of reading books that inevitably added another to do list to my mental check-list: want peace? Here’s how to attain it. Want to love people better? Try this out. Want to be a better person? Aye. The mere thought exhausted me and seemed the opposite of what a full life should be: checklists.
What I loved about Miller’s book was first was his decision to not live in mediocrity and how he stepped into adventure and beauty. He decided to get up and chase the things that make life meaningful. But, second, he didn’t do this out of naivete, thinking one adventure after another would make a great story. He knew heartbreak would most likely abound and struggle would ensue, but that option is so much better than merely watching other people’s stories from the comfort of one’s couch.
If only Newland Archer had realized this.