Sunday, 4 July 2010

Blue Like Jazz

Just spent most of the weekend sitting by a river at the foot of Wales' highest waterfall reading Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz.  I'm writing this because I can't make my mind up about the book.

Miller can clearly write.  I found myself laughing out loud more than once.  I think this opener to his chapter, Magic gives you the flavour,
When I was a child my mother took me to see David Copperfield the Magician.  I think she had a crush on him.  It was the same year he made the Statue of Liberty disappear on national television.  Later he made a plane disappear and later still he got engaged to Claudia Schiffer.
On the other hand he's a bit too fond of certain stylistic cliches.  Like the one where you start a chapter with a seemingly insignificant anecdote as a way into your subject then complete the circle at the very end of the chapter by coming back to some aspect of the anecdote as neat closer.

Miller's insights on human nature and Christian spirituality are often spot on.  Trouble is most of these arise out of rather too much petty introspection for my liking.  Is he self-aware or self-obsessed?  Not sure.

The chapter on evangelism, where Miller and his mates turn the idea of confessing your sins on its head, is sheer genius.  The one on marriage though struck me as pretentious faux intellectualism.  A bit like using the worked faux.

I loved his liberal cultural attitudes.  Couldn't help wondering though why his basic theology is quite so unreconstructed-conservative-evangelical.  Way too sin-centered to my mind.  Also he keeps banging on about the Devil.  The whole book bounces back and forth between a refreshing world-affirming perspective and good old-fashioned fundamentalist dualism.  Also, too much time spent slagging off the Republican party.  Not that the Republicans under Bush didn't need slagging off, but it did get boring.  Too many of the people he describes are cute or beautiful.  And way too much about smoking pipes.

There are lots of  good stories, personal stories, of course.  Sometimes though I did find myself wondering if they were true.  I had the sneaking suspicion they must have been embellished.  Maybe though that says more about my failings than Miller's.  We always spot faults in others (real or imagined) that we know we are prone to ourselves.

The book is a collection of essays/reflections on a range of life issues from the perspective of Christian spirituality.  It clearly has evangelistic as well as didactic intent.  I can imagine it working for some people.

It's always a good sign when I irritate my wife by repeatedly asking her to put down her Reginald Hill while I reader her a paragraph.  Did this quite a bit.  Also kept wondering what certain friends would make of it.  Wondered this so much that I'm going to buy a copy for a couple of people in the hope that they might read at and give me their feedback.

When all's said and done I reckon the most important thing is that the book got through to me.  Helped me connect with God.  So I really ought not to complain.  Maybe it's because I liked it so much that it irritated me so much.  Tends to work that way with people as well as books, don't your find?

Anyhow there you have it.  That's what I made of Blue Like Jazz.  (Oh, yes that's another thing, there's virtually nothing about Jazz, which can't be good.)  If you've read it, I'd be really interested to know what you think.  Go on, help me out, make a comment.


Anonymous said...

Maybe life would be more fun if you let Mrs Nah Then read you excerpts from Reginald Hill.

Jonathan Robinson said...

I liked the book, but don't think it should be read too critically. Miller is good because he is an insecure conflicted and inconsistent human who isn't afraid to share that in a book. The book is very self centred but it is not attempting to be an objective look at life. Like you I am tempted to try it out on others, especially non-christians, haven't got round to stumping up the moolah yet though!

BTW i have given up reading paragraphs to my wife, i think it does just annoy her.

Debs said...

My other half would have been gutted if he had picked up a book with that title and there had been no Jazz... he'd tell you there should be laws against it!