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So I guess I’m pretty low brow when it comes to my reading choices, especially novels. I always say that I want to catch up on reading the great novels: Steinbeck, Melville, Joyce, Fitzgerald.

The angel on one shoulder says “Proust!” but the devil on the other shoulder insists “Thomas Harris!”

All of that is to say that I like thrillers, and even though it now seems to be in vogue to make fun of Dan Brown because he’s successful, I can’t join in because I think he actually has a talent to take real things and hidden concepts and spin very readable novels out of them. My Twitter review of The Lost Symbol was “Pretty good read, meh ending.” I enjoyed reading it but at the end of it I felt like I did at the end of The Da Vinci Code. That’s it?

Also there are a couple of plot points that are a bit hinky. There’s one thing that everybody who sees it says something like “Oh my God, if this gets out it will cause panic in the streets! People will begin tearing their hair out and then cut their own tongues off with rusty pruning shears. If people find out about this, they will go directly to amazon.com and purchase the complete set of ‘Full House’ DVDs and then gouge their eyes out with corn cob skewers (also available at amazon.com)!!!” Then when you find out what the thing is you’re saying, “Really? Widespread panic about this?”

Also, the books have in a way become eclipsed by the movies. Even though I haven’t seen either of the movies, I can no longer read about Robert Langdon without picturing Tom Hanks. Oh, and Ron Howard, if you’re reading this (and AMB is required reading for everyone in Hollywood), a casting suggestion for Inoue Sato: Linda Hunt. That one’s for free.

At this point I hasten to add that my “lowbrow” comment from earlier totally does NOT apply to the next three books. They are the highbrow exception to my lowbrow rule. Or the low spark of high heeled boys. Or something like that.

Recently I went to see a couple of authors on their book tour. Susan E. Isaacs and Donald Miller are on a 65 city tour promoting their new books and they were in a larger town about an hour’s drive from me.

Now Susan is an old friend from LA, and we met in one of the many churches she talks about in her “snarky but authentic spiritual memoir” Angry Conversations with God. She changes the names of some of the people in her book and also the names of the churches so I’m not sure exactly which church it was. She says it was the ‘Orthopraxy, Dude’ church, but it seems more like ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Slackers 4 Jesus’ to me.

Personally, I think anyone that has to disguise names in their writing is a coward; and so do Boodles, Tania, Sprinkles, Glaze, Juanita, Rhubarb, Cornelius, Preacher, Tiny Elvis, and everybody at WeownyouMart.

So, by way of a disclaimer I do know the author, but don’t look for me in the book. I’m not in it unless you count me as one of the hundreds of excised huevos guys that had a crush on her but was too chicken to ask her out. That being said, I don’t know how objective I can be, but the book deserves all the accolades it has received.

Susan’s story is that of a lifelong Christian who fell in love with the “kind, Norwegian-looking Jesus” whose picture “hung in every classroom, pastor’s study, and toilet stall at Olivet Lutheran Church and Day School.” By age 40, however, she finds herself frustrated at her lack of success with her acting career and angry with church people, men, and most of all with God. So she takes God to marriage counseling (like you do). The results are funny, touching, sad (I know, but I literally did laugh and cry), and brutally honest:

Someone else told me to read Conversations with God, that new age piffle where God is like the Big Lebowski, telling you to “just follow your truth, dude.”
Who on earth had conversations with God like that? If I wrote my conversations with God into a book, they’d be very angry conversations. They’d go more like:
Susan: What the ****, God? Are you trying to kill me?
God: Shut the **** up or I will!

See what I mean? Admit it, a large amount of whatever you’re currently drinking just spewed out of your nose and onto your keyboard just now.

So Susan indeed finds a Christian counselor who is willing to guide her through the process of taking God to marriage counseling. You really have to admire Susan and the therapist “Rudy” for taking the leap to do this. The process involved bringing God into the room, as Susan imagines him – and yes, Susan imagines a “him” God although she knows that God is a being who exists outside of gender. I have to say, at least at the beginning, Susan’s God has a bit of an attitude:

God: Can I ask a question? Are you just going to call me in every week, taking me away from life-and-death crises as well as people who actually want to be around me because they love me, so I can explain myself to your liking? If that’s all we’re going to do here, I’m not available for that.
Rudy: But Susan has a lot of questions. And I’m curious why her version of you is so sarcastic.
God: Just because Susan’s version of me is sarcastic doesn’t mean I’m not sarcastic. Sarcasm is a viable form of communication. What about when Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal? “Where’s your god? Is he asleep? Is he off taking a dump?”
Susan: He did not say that. He said something about going on a journey.
Rudy: “Going on a long journey” was a Hebrew euphemism for taking a dump.
Susan: Great. Can I use it in counseling?
Rudy: No you can’t. Lord, are you available to listen to what Susan has to say?
God: Sure. You’ve got an hour; I’ve got eternity.

Can this marriage be saved? I’m not going to spoil the surprise; you’ll just have to read the book.

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So on a crisp October Sunday evening I set out for the big event. Anticipating some private time, I bought a couple of Garcia Y Vegas at CVS and got on the freeway. I was enjoying my cigar and made pretty good time until I got to the city limits and took the wrong exit. After I realized my error I got back on the freeway and found the right exit.

In spite of my misadventures I was still close to being on time, then about a mile from my exit traffic backed up. A car had overturned. My first reaction was, “Ahhh, just like home.” Literally this is the first real traffic jam I’ve been in for months. My second reaction was that I was going to be late, and I was.

By the time I found the place and got inside, Susan was probably half way through her segment. As I came in she was doing her bit about “the Hokie Pokie for Okies.” You’ll just have to read the book if you want to know what that is.

One surprise that I got from hearing Susan do her story live was that God turns out not only to be sarcastic, but he has a British accent. Who knew? The crowd – most of whom were there to see Don Miller – was eating it up, and when she had to stop it was clear that they wanted to hear more.

It was so great to see her again, I’m so happy that thousands of people are getting exposed to her on this tour. Susan is still in LA and not only is she on better terms with God, she’s happily married to a great guy. We got to chat briefly after the program and she signed my book “To Joe – Write your own.” I will Susan, but in my version God sounds more like Walter Matthau.

The first time I heard of Don Miller was when I was browsing through a bookstore. I saw “Blue Like Jazz” and was intrigued with the title and the line “Nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality.” It all appealed to me, I love jazz and blue is my favorite color, but alas I was only browsing and I quickly moved along.

Now one problem that I must admit to is that sometimes I will get turned off from something that I might genuinely like, even love, by the hoards of people insisting that I love it. Such was the case with Mr. Miller and “Blue Like Jazz.” So many people just raved about the book that I got sick of hearing about it and its author. The conversations would go something like this:

Donald Miller Fan: Hey, Joe. Have you read “Blue Like Jazz?”
Me: No, is it good?
DMF: Is it good? Are you kidding me? It’s great! “Blue Like Jazz” is only the greatest book ever! Except for the Bible of course.
Me: Really.
DMF: Yes. Yes it is. Better than “The Shack,” better than “Plato’s Republic,” better than anything by that hack Thomas Harris.
Me: Stop it right there!
DMF: Seriously, you HAVE to read this book. Donald Miller is amazing. He’s the best thing since sliced bread.
Me: Really, person whom I am imagining? This is the best you can do? A cliché like “best thing since sliced bread?”
DMF: I mean it, in fact Donald Miller was the first person to actually slice bread.
Me: What?
DMF: It’s true, before Donald Miller people used to have to eat entire loaves of bread.
Me: OK, this is just…
DMF: Also the Salk vaccine.
Me: What about it?
DMF: He invented the Salk vaccine. But he’s so godly and humble that he let Jonas Salk get the credit for it.
Me: The Salk vaccine came out in the 50s, Donald Miller isn’t even…
DMF: He invented a time machine.
Me: A time machine.
DMF: Yep, and he went back in time and invented the Salk vaccine.
Me: Gosh it’s been great seeing you but…
DMF: In fact, most of the great achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries can be attributed to Donald Miller.
Me: And his time machine.
DMF: You betcha.
Me: So…why doesn’t he go back in time and kill Hitler or stop 9/11?
[pause]
DMF: You know, Joe. You’re really weird.

So I figured since I was going to see Susan and Don Miller I had better make up for my little rebellious streak and read some of his stuff. Even though on this tour he’s promoting his new book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” I thought it would be a good idea to make up for lost time and finally read “Blue Like Jazz.” And you know what? It’s the greatest book ever!!! Go get it and read it now!!! WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS STUPID BLOG?????

I must admit that I’m only eight chapters into the book, but I love the way he writes. He strikes me as a genuinely curious soul who has dispensed with the trappings of religiosity and finds God in the world and the people around him, even – or especially – those who are still on their spiritual journey and haven’t arrived at Christianity.

Much of the book is drawn from his experiences with fellow students at Reed College in Portland, OR. He describes Reed College as a very non-Christian place where still people find Christ together in a real sense. One friend, Penny speaks about how she and a Christian friend would “eat chocolates and smoke cigarettes and read the Bible.” Penny says, “Don, the Bible is so good with chocolate. I always thought the Bible was more of a salad thing, you know, but it isn’t. It is a chocolate thing.”

I like Reed College and the people who go there. I think Jesus would too, they seem like his kind of peeps.

Now, I have not read “A Million Miles” so I can’t write about it, only what Don said at the event.

Don Miller started off his talk by saying that “Blue Like Jazz” is being made into a movie, so in the process he sought out some information on the craft of storytelling, specifically screenwriting. The guru of the screenwriting trade is Robert McKee. He gives seminars a couple of times a year and they are considered required attendance for screenwriting wannabes. Back when I was a screenwriting wannabe I used to see the ads for his classes in the LA Times and wanted to go, sit at his feet, and learn of him but I never did.

Funny thing about Robert McKee though. If you look at his body of work on IMDb, it’s not very impressive. Two TV shows and made for TV movies that nobody’s ever heard of. Just sayin’

Don went though, got yelled at by Mr. McKee (apparently also a rite of passage for screenwriters, no wonder I never made it), and did seem to learn a lot about story craft. What he learned he will share in the book about how to make your life and your story count.

One thing that Don Miller has started seems like it will really count in a lot of boy’s lives. Don grew up without a Dad, and he has started The Mentoring Project in order to reach boys like him. Click on the link and you’ll see the same video that we saw at the event and how you can get involved.

So anyway, the Don and Susan show is great. Two Christians who tell the truth, amazing. It might not be too late for you to go, check out the widget below or go to http://amillionmiles.com/ to see if they’re coming your way.

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2 thoughts on “Four Books in One Week (Sort of)

  1. I haven’t read a book review this good since…um…maybe ever!

    LOVED it!! I never actually type ‘LOL’ but I have to say that you had me laughing out loud. Love it.

    I have read A Million Miles and seriously, it’s better than BLJ. You’ll pretty much want to throw yourself out a window (preferably on the first floor and one that’s already open) because it’s THAT good.

    Awesome blog, Joe!

  2. Thank you, Joe, for this post. Yes it was R&R Slackers for Jesus. BTW I my first thought was that “DMF” meant “Dumb Mother F—.”

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