Reviewed Elsewhere [Vol. 2, #36]

September 11, 2009


Byron Borger reviews
Donald Miller’s A MILLION MILES

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller is a can’t-put-down saga, a dramatic bit of storytelling about, well, about storytelling.  It is about the making of a movie, and the need to have the life the movie is about be worthy of making a movie about.  How about you?  Would a movie of your life be interesting?  Good?  If you studied film a bit, read some novels, learned some stuff about narrative arc and virtue and story, might it effect your own sense of the story you are a part of?  Do you think God is a part of that?

We say, these days, that our lives should be part of God’s story.  That our worldview is really best described as the narrative that shapes us, the story we are a part of.  That is exactly what Miller discovers, in his lackluster, oddball way.  He is honest and funny and a bit goofy and ends up in Africa and riding his bike across country and paddling in a kayak or something up to Alaska or somewhere.  He meets some rich people, and some not so rich people.  He tells of a very, very moving funeral, where the person’s life obviously was worth mourning and celebrating.  He wonders about his.  And he invites you to wonder about yours.  This is one of the books of the year, hip, funny, interesting, contemporary, and deeply right.  Our lives need to make sense, and they do that when we live for something other than our own sorry selves.

Read the full review:

Donald Miller.

Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
Pre-order now: [ ]

“Race and the Disfiguration
of the Christian Social Imagination”
Willie Jennings

The eminent scholar of African American history, John Hope Franklin, once commented that “We know all too little about the factors that affect the attitudes of the peoples of the world toward one another. It is clear, however, that color and race are at once the most important and the most enigmatic.” Though he recently passed, the truth of Franklin’s statement continues to live, especially this last sentence. The idea that color and race are still the most important and most enigmatic of issues that affect our interaction with one another is clearly a controversial assertion in a nation that perceives itself to have progressed beyond its macabre racial past. Even more, if true, it stands as a jeremiad against the faithfulness of our churches to a gospel that conquers divisions instead of creating new and powerful ones. Willie Jennings, professor of black church studies and theology at Duke Divinity School, argues that the church insufficiently perceives the extent of the disfiguration of its social imagination and that a deep-seated problem within orthodox thinking has rendered the church ill-equipped and often naive to this ugly fact. In this interview, Jennings discusses the historical and theological components that have led to our current misconceptions of race.

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THE NY TIMES Review of
Nicholson Baker’s New Novel

Novels about poetry are a dodgy proposition. After all, novelists already have a near monopoly on narrative and discursive fiction — turf once claimed by poetry — and it seems almost impolite for our prose writers, having triumphed so thoroughly over their sister art, to set themselves up as tour guides to poetry’s dwindling estate. And let’s face it, stories involving poets tend to be hokey or, worse, excruciatingly literary. Maybe the spires of libraries rise darkly in the gloaming; maybe bookish amour unfolds amid bosomy fields laden with the fleeting fruits of summer. At best, the author follows the course Stephen King takes in The Tommyknockers and skims over his protagonist’s occupation in order to concentrate on the perilous effects of buried alien spacecraft.

Yet somehow Nicholson Baker has written a novel about poetry that’s actually about poetry — and that is also startlingly perceptive and ardent, both as a work of fiction and as a representation of the kind of thinking that poetry readers do. The Anthologist is the story of Paul Chowder, a semi-successful, middle-aged American poet trying and mostly failing to write the introduction to an anthology called “Only Rhyme.” As in most Baker novels, not much happens. Chowder sits in his workplace/barn and thinks; he shampoos the dog; he goes blueberry picking; he installs flooring for a neighbor; he pines for his former girlfriend Roz, who left him after getting fed up with his procrastination; he acquires a couple of finger injuries; he gives a reading; and finally, he sits on a panel on rhyme in Switzerland, at which he . . . well, again, it’s a Baker denouement, so not much happens, at least in terms of gunfights or ninjas.

Read the full review:

Nicholson Baker

Hardback: Simon and Schuster, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]