Blue Like Jazz – Not Really Getting It

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I have read a couple of chapters of Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and I have to say that I just cannot really get into it. I think it just seems like he is trying to be purposefully flippant or maybe it is that the book is fluffy with an air that it really isn’t fluffy if you think really hard. This is more of a writer’s book than a reader’s book. It is kind of like the show 30 Rock – it gets all the awards and I just don’t care for it. It seems more like a show the insiders in the industry would love but an everyday Joe just doesn’t relate too. It is kind of opposite with Miller in the sense that I think he writes so hard for people to relate to the book that it kind of comes across with a really strange tone that my modern leaning brain just doesn’t want to wrap around. I just can’t shake the feeling that Miller is trying to get me to think that he is the kind of guy who remembers the weird details or tosses out a shocking statement with no follow up because that makes it seem more authentic.

I am impressed by Miller as a speaker and I can tell he is a really smart guy but if I had to guess I would say this book is written to make it seem like he threw it together in a month what actually took much, much longer to carefully and painstakingly write to make it seem that way.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Do I need to read on and get a few more chapters under my belt? Let me know if I am just missing it.

0 Responses

  1. I had the exact same experience. Its sorta like when I heard everyone talking about this great up & coming comedian Dane Cook — what’s so funny that I should be laughing?

    I, too, would like to know from someone who read cover-to-cover whether I should pick it back up and what I should find so satisfying…

  2. No … I hated the book. There were points that caused me to think a little so that’s good but more I found it to be the ramblings of a guy working hard to seem cool by speaking against the organized church (not quite a new idea) while offering no solutions. Worse, he bragged about some personal sin to point out how the church failed and those that sinned with him were somehow better. He never mentioned guilt or repentance, only frustration with an organization that failed him.

    Nope – not on my recommended reading list.

  3. Miller’s writing style is…unique, to put it politely. I found the book a mixed bag. Not a lot of “Wow!” moments but some interesting stuff on his “seat of the pants” approach to Christianity, including some of his experiences in reaching out.

    A far better read is “Through Painted Deserts.” Of course, I love a good travel story.

  4. I guess I will be the voice of dissent. I loved the book. I have read it 4 times now. I recently heard Miller speak and got to meet him and talk for a bit. He seems really authentic. I think he is kind of just a big nerd, and the book really is a reflection of who he is. I think he offered a ton of solutions, ie. setting up a kitchen on the sidewalk, the confession booth idea, having good conversations over beer. Those arent grand systemic changes but I believe that they are quite meaningful.

    I think the book gets better as it goes. The first chapters are slow, but I think it picks up in later chapters. My wife liked the concepts, but she doesnt like Miller’s writing style.

    Perhaps the fact that my mind is primarily in a post-modern realm had something to do with me loving the book. Miller articulated a lot of the things I believe and feel. Another thing I like about the book is that I can recommend it to non-Christian friends and they can read it and see that not all Christians are righteous jerks. I say that because most of the agnostics and atheists I know seem to feel this way.

    On a final not, I like all of Miller’s books. Well I havent read the one on growing up without a father, but the other ones are all on my favorites list.

  5. I listened to the book from As I listened, I was frustrated. I heard so many preachers say they were reading it and thought if it was good enough for them, it must have something of value. And, it did have a few things, but, it contained mundane stories that were repeated. He could have said it in half the book.
    I don’t know what to tell you, if you don’t like it, don’t waste your time as there are many others more valuable. But I am glad to see that there are others that had the same experience I did. I thought I was odd or something, Now I realize there are others that are just as odd as I. Love your site!

  6. I am with Preacher man. This book really got me thinking and started a whole spiritual awaking for me. I recommend plowing on through and picking up Miller’s “Searching for God knows what” as well. I don’t agree with everything Miller says – but it brought a lot of things to the forefront for me.
    Here is a link to a discussion we had over Miller at one of the blogs I post on:

  7. Found the book boring and the rambling writing style annoying. I just wanted him to make a point and move on.

    It has been rather popular in the Christian bookstore I manage. At least it isn’t a book a disagree with for theological reasons.

    I would prefer to read Brennan Manning, JI Packer or John Stott.

  8. People love or hate this book. I guess it depends on how linear you are in your thinking (which is neither good nor bad). I loved it. I read through it once a year. There are certain people who I recommend this book to, and it has been incredibly helpful to them. There are other people I don’t recommend it to because it wouldn’t be helpful, but rather frustrating and/or confusing.

  9. I really liked the book (and the follow-up, Searching For God Knows What). I didn’t think I would because of some of the people who recommended it, but I really enjoyed it.

    I certainly disagreed with Miller on a few things, but he really made me think and reexamine some beliefs.

    I really enjoy your blog, Matt.

  10. Interesting. Back when you first started making posts about Rob Bell, I was in between classes at HUGSR and decided to catch up on my postmodern-leaning reading. I read both Blue Like Jazz and Velvet Elvis the same day. Between the two, I liked BLJ much, much better. I thought there were some great thoughts. I liked the first part of the book more than the last part, where I felt like all he wanted to talk about was what an annoying roommate he must be.

    I like Miller more than Bell so far.

  11. Oh yea, I own the book. I think I will start reading it again from where I left off. So far I have liked it. He has said some things that seem to challenge me. What are those? I will have get back into the book and find out. In fact they may have been why I set the book down, I just didn’t feel like being challenged at the moment.

  12. I’ve owned the book for a number of years and read it a number of times (as well as Miller’s three others). It’s interesting…I’m not entirely sure what some of the condemnations are all about? I mean sure, some people don’t like his style. Some people don’t like Hemingway; some don’t like Tolstoy. Few would argue that those author’s works aren’t significant (or argue well, I should say). But the personal gibes? Striving to seem cool, vacuous remarks for their own sake–rather harsh words for a guy who’s book has, for the better of the Kingdom, influenced millions of lives.

    Maybe it’s just me. I liked Blue Like Jazz, but I hardly feel partial. Some of the political ramblings, though understandable in their own context, were unnecessary. But the content has reached a lot of people–most importantly of all, a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have taken a second look at Christ. May not be our “particular brand of vodka”, but if it’s merits in reaching nonbelievers is real, might not be such a bad idea to set aside the personal insults. Do they accomplish much anyway?

    Just my two cents.

  13. Hi Regan,

    Thanks for your two cents. They are valuable cents. I would hardly call the thoughts here condemnations. Critiques. Yes. Condemnations? Not hardly. Calling something annoying or hard to get into is not a condemnation of the book or the author. As I have listened to more and more people talk about the book and think back on the book I do think it has more value than I initially thought. It is just not the book for me.

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