Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Review: Searching for God Knows What

To tell you the truth, I only read this book because they were handing it out free on Father's Day at my church (along with Wild at Heart which I've already read), it was very small and paperback so I threw it in my London luggage, and then I got so much reading done in London I actually got it started while I was over there (last book I started), and once I start a book I will almost always finish it. The ending of something just pulls like gravity once I open that front cover.

So how was it? I was pleasantly surprised. It was better than Blue Like Jazz, which I liked alright, but had the distinct feeling that it was the magnum opus of Donald Miller, in the same way that Pulp Fiction was for Quantin Tarantino. His laid-back, self-deprecating style and focus on his particular Portland community didn't convince me there was enough left in the well for a good second book (really third, but I usually read the author's first book last for some reason!). But this is evidence that there is enough in that well, and in many ways Searching is better than the "big hit" book. To tell you the truth, I only remember three things from Blue Like Jazz right now: the description of a bowl-like geographical feature in Portland, the "confessional booth" at Reed College, and some talk about the narrative function of scripture. It didn't seem to "add up" or illuminate much beyond Portland culture and narrative, emergent theology. This book comes much closer to being a coherent, sustained narrative.

The biggest reason it's better is that literally half the book is actually exegesis. Miller writes about Genesis 1-3 (a big passage for me as a scientist), the gospels, and Romeo and Juliet. I don't buy his theory on the last one but it's interesting enough that I'd like to know more about it, and the book seems to end too early, meaning I want more and look forward to his next book. Miller ties everything together with some social theorizing that isn't really that deep or complex, but is apt enough to be worth thinking about in its genuine criticism of "normal life." (His "theory of everything" doesn't really compare with Walker Percy, whose novel I'm reading simultaneously, so I might be a little harsh on that aspect -- very few people have as well-defined and unique a theory of everything as Percy!)

Miller's most poignant stories are pulled from high school, either his or his friends, and he does a good job of bringing in stories from other people in general into the narrative. I think there are several moments in there that will stick with me for a while. So I judged a book by its cover and didn't think it would be a step forward, but it was. Miller is a lot closer to writing like Eugene Peterson in this book than he was previously, and you know, that's where he should be heading.

They should put a label on this book "Now with 50% more Bible!" Then again, that might not make a Miller book sell ...

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