Ron’s #37: Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller

I’ve been a mild Donald Miller fan over these past few year, first reading Blue Like Jazz during a trip in Bali. I remember sitting on the balcony of our hotel overlooking a green garden with this book about God and Portland. I liked Miller’s view of Portland far more than his view of God, a post-modern grandfatherly-type begging for his children to relax a bit. Aside from either of these, I loved Miller’s poetic prose. He writes with profound description and quiet beauty, a style that makes me pause to consider not his ideas as much as the sentence structure and content.

After Blue Like Jazz, I read his next book, Searching for God Knows What, and I thought that most interesting part of the book was its clever title. Miller’s PoMo poster child status went into overdrive, and I lost interest. In 2009, I picked up A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In that book, Miller chronicles his post-Blue Like Jazz doldrums while planning a movie version of the book. The producers realize that the autobiography doesn’t have enough story in it, and work to add more story in his life story. This causes an existential crisis in Miller, and he begins ways to live life more fully, more story-worthy. From the three books, this was by far my favorite. A search for authentic life, comparing our lives to the elements of a story, as well as Miller’s excellent writing style make an excellent book, one that I plan to reread. I was a fan again. (Side note: I watched Blue Like Jazz, the movie version, and it was one of the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time.)

His earlier book, Through Painted Deserts, appeared as an audiobook on NoiseTrade, so I downloaded it and listened to it last week. It tells his road trip with his friend Paul from Houston to Oregon. I enjoyed reading his first impressions of Portland, a city that he and I both love, as well as his experiences with people and situations along the way. His writing style has developed in later books, but his writing voice is still clear, bright, and insightful. There are moments where the self-reflection feels too overwrought, and I never fully understood the difference between the overarching questions of The How’s and the Why’s. but that is no matter. I enjoyed spending a bit of time on this trip, and Miller was an engaging host.

I’m sure my future reading lists will include new books by Donald Miller. He’s an intriguing writer with much to say and many stories to tell.

About Ron 173 Articles
I teach English and government in Okinawa, Japan. I love reading theology and fiction, and helps keep me accountable. Reading with three kids under 5 is a bit of a challenge, but I keep trying to find ways to read more. My favorites writers are C. S. Lewis, Flannery O’ Connor, and Raymond Carver.

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