By Ryan

The following is an excerpt from the author’s introduction to Donald Miller’s latest memoir, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

million milesIf 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.

Now, before I go any further, I should note that Miller uses this example as a way to highlight the sort of meaningless drivel we base our lives around, and his book is basically about trying to find a better story for our lives.  It’s all a bit clichéd and simplistic, but I’m basically on board with Miller’s message.  His Volvo example, though?  Terrible.

Miller may be one of this country’s best-selling authors, but he’d make a poor screenwriter, precisely because of the line of thinking shown above.  Miller assumes that a movie about a Volvo would be boring and shallow and, thus, so to would a life centered on that same story.  What he fails to realize—or chooses not to realize in the interest of an introduction that will appeal to uncontemplative readers in the nation’s bookstores—is that stories about Volvos are never just stories about Volvos.  Anyone who would spend years working towards buying a certain type of car has layers of depth and character that would make for a fascinating film and probably even a great documentary.  In fact, in the hands of someone like Alexander Payne, it could be one of the most meaningful, emotive films you’d ever see.

Miller’s thinking, of course, reflects that of most major movie executives, and might help to explain the deteriorating state of mainstream movies in the U.S.  Still, though, it’s troubling to think that unreflective twenty-somethings are going to read Miller’s book and think, Wow, I really have to make my life about something big, without realizing that something big underlies everything we’re already pursing, Volvos and all.  We don’t need more people trying to save the world through politics, charity, and religion; we need better engagement with those things by the Volvo crowd.  Changing your dreams isn’t helpful; identifying what your dreams already are, and then finding a way to make those dreams big could be.  I actually think Miller would agree with these sentiments, it’s just a pity that he chose to introduce his new book with an example that undermines them.