Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

May Books 28) Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

I got this book because LibraryThing predicted I would not like it. Earlier this year I ran all the books I had read that month through the LibraryThing "unsuggester" and this and one other book (to be revealed in due course) came up the most often. I can't reconstruct exactly how, but the UnSuggestions for Blue Like Jazz are not a completely inaccurate match for my library, I suspect because few sf readers are into liberal brands of Christianity. [edited to add: It's the top UnSuggestion for A Case of Conscience, second for The Go-Between and Farmer in the Sky, and further down for The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat and 32 Stories.]

I, of course, am into liberal brands of Christianity, so I anticipated I would be writing a smug review about how LibraryThing's UnSuggester Got It Wrong. And intellectually, I found as I had expected that I have a lot in common with Miller's take on faith (disconnecting it from intellectual arguments) and tolerance of diversity (he is in favour). We are on the same religious and political wavelength.

However, that is not sufficient to enjoy the book. There were two big issues which led me to the uncomfortable conclusion that the LibraryThing UnSuggester Got It Right, even if not necessarily for the right reasons. The first is that the book is not written for people like me; it is written for people who have been deeply involved in US-style evangelical Christianity and have come part of the way out the other side. I found it very striking that there was no discussion of other faiths at all. In my day job I happen to work with several (rather secular) Muslim clients and also a Buddhist political movement. One of the holiest men it has been my pleasure to meet was the late Baba Tahir Emini of the Bektashi shrine in Tetovo. As I try and work out what God has been telling me, I cannot ignore the fact that he appears to have spoken to other people in other ways. Miller's book is largely set in Portland, Oregon, and entirely features people located at different points along the Christian/non-believer axis; the concept of another dimension (or indeed of the world outside the continental USA) is simply absent.

The other problem, sadly, is that it simply isn't that well written. It's not as bad as Jim Wallis' God's Politics, which I simply couldn't finish even though I agreed with most of it, but Miller's style is peculiarly limp, in places crashingly dull, aspiring perhaps to the style of Vonnegut (or maybe Hemingway) but reaching excellence only in Chapter 18 (on "Love"). If you find yourself in the bookshop considering whether or not to buy the book, read Chapter 18 (where the good bits are the middle couple of pages) and bear in mind that the rest is not as good. Does that help you make your decision?

So, LibraryThing, good call; I hope you update the UnSuggestion engine soon.

Having said all that, people who know Reed College will certainly find a number of points of local interest, so I can recommend it to them!
Tags: bookblog 2009, religion

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