Friday, February 13, 2015

Brief Review: The flaws that bind, or, Looking for love in all the messy places

In 2003, Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz was published and slowly crept up to bestseller status over the next few years. Blue was different from most Christian books at the time, employing a shoot-straight-from-the-hip style with a slightly irreverent and a tad snarky tone.

It was hip, funny, insightful, and a good read. I liked it.

Miller let fly a couple more books before his next notable release in 2009 with the odd title, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. The tone of this one was more staid and how-to and I didn’t enjoy it as much.

Frankly, as a writer, I’d be content to produce one well-selling book that was well received. But publishers aren’t content with that idea. They tend to insist writers produce additional titles, especially when one does well.

It took a tad over five years, but Miller’s new one is titled Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy. I like it better than A Million Miles, but not as much as Blue, which is not to say that it’s a bad book. Just different.

Writers write about what they know and what they know is essentially what they are experiencing. Miller was in a developing relationship that culminated in marriage. Aha! Material for a book!

I’ve got a feeling that women are going to like this new book a lot more than men and a lot of men are going to get copies as gifts on Valentine’s Day and beyond. That could be a good thing if the guys read the book. I think the primary audience are those who are under 40, in a relationship or want to be, and especially if you’re planning to get married.

The book is about relationships and centers heavily on Miller’s romance with his now wife, Betsy. In fact, at times, it feels a little voyeurish, like peeking in a window watching a couple dance. But then, that’s the aim of the book.

Frankly, it seems that anyone who gets close to Miller ends up in the book. Be warned!

The tone is very conversational. Miller is an excellent writer. I’ve seen comments from others who read the book in a single sitting. Not me.

The book felt a little cloying at times and I could only take it in small bites. Again, I’m not saying it’s a bad book. It’s just that it’s not a book for everyone, and some books connect with us because of where we are in our own lives at the time we read them.

As a kid, I read and fell in love with Henry Gregor Felsen’s books, Crash Club and Hot Rod. I picked one up again recently and read only little before I had to stop. The writing was crisp but dated. They’re still good books, just not for me right now.

That’s kind of how I feel about Scary Close. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, especially Miller’s most ardent fans. And maybe even my wife if she chooses to read the book. That’s cool.

Even Miller admitted some of what he had to say was a bit much even for him: “[W]riting this book is difficult for me, not because it’s a particularly hard book to write, but because I get tired of talking about my feelings all the time.”

See what I mean about the women liking this one more than the guys? You know what I’m saying.

In his poem “Searching”, Billy Collins reveals,
I recall someone once admitting
that all he remembered of Anna Karenina
was something about a picnic basket,

and now, after consuming a book
devoted to the subject of Barcelona--
its people, its history, its complex architecture--

all I remember is the mention
of an albino gorilla, the inhabitant of a park
where the Citadel of the Bourbons once stood.
For me, the more memorable parts of Miller’s new book -- my albino gorilla if you will -- were those places where he talks about being a writer. Like, “The downside of being a writer is you get plenty of time to overthink your life.” Although I’m not sure that’s possible.

The section where he acknowledges that his writing had become “too careful” and thus yielding the more business-like tone of A Million Miles, also resonated. I like the kind of manifesto he developed to help him free up the writing in his books and on his blogs:
I am willing to sound dumb.
I am willing to be wrong.
I am willing to be passionate about something that isn’t perceived as cool.
I am willing to express a theory.
I am willing to admit I’m afraid.
I’m willing to contradict something I’ve said before.
I’m willing to have a knee-jerk reaction, even a wrong one.
I’m willing to apologize.
I’m perfectly willing to be perfectly human.
These are excellent challenges for any writer to keep in mind.

This is not a how-to book. You will not find anything remotely close to “10 Easy Steps To Better Loving.” But, you will find good tips and lived-out examples that may contribute to improving your relationships.

Overall, Scary Close is a good story about growing close through giving and receiving grace in an often graceless world.

As Miller states, “We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.”

I wouldn’t recommend this book for a small group study, except perhaps a very small group of two, if you follow me. Again, there will be those who disagree. So be it.

But I do recommend Scary Close for those who enjoy a good casual read on a cold winter’s night, and want to better understand how our flaws and grace can work together to bring us closer to the ones we love.

That’s worth the price of any book.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Agree? Disagree? How many of Miller’s books have you read? What are you favorites? Least favorite? Are you a fan ofDonald Miller? Are there books on relationships you would recommend to others? Why? Share your thoughts in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. You got me at Billy Collins. He was on PHC last weekend. Do you ever listen to the Diane Rehm show on NPR? The other day she had a panel discussing a number of questions couples can ask each other to help get closer. Can't recall the number, but these are posted on the Rehm website. What was important was looking in each other's eyes while talking. Some of all this is scary in a way. But that can be good, right? I'm going to check out the questions and go from there. Great posting, Stephen, especially for Valentine's Day.


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