Readers of this space won’t be surprised to hear I love reading. When actually sitting down with a book, no matter if electronic or paper, isn’t possible, the next best thing for me is listening to audio books. Because I refuse to pay full retail for them what ends up in my vehicle is always a reflection of what was available at my favourite thrift store or library discard sale.
Leaving those purchases to serendipity has turned out well. That’s how I fell in love with Tami Hoag’s mysteries. Or the strong female characters in Lisa Scottoline’s books. Which then led to the books she’s co-written with her daughter Francesca Serritella. It was hearing the lyrical cadence of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union or James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown that led me to those authors. The 50-CD set of Ayn Rand’s 1957 Atlas Shrugged tested my staying power and made me admire the underlying premise of the book in the context of today’s value system.
When I’m listening for sheer entertainment and escapism purposes there are no demands on me. I soak it all up.
When the material is non-fiction or memoir the stakes are raised. There’s often a lesson to be learned or facts to be assimilated. So whether it’s Joel Osteen or Deepak Chopra or Haven Kimmel I’m learning.
I just finished listening to Donald Miller’s memoir A Million Miles in a Thousand Years—What I Learned While Editing My Life. Miller is a faith-based writer who had written a bestselling memoir Blue Like Jazz. Despite that success his life was stalling. He was sleeping all day, wasting money, struggling in his love life, and weighing about 400 pounds. Then he was approached by a couple of producers to turn his memoir into a movie. The process of turning his life into a screenplay was arduous. It made him realize that through action or inaction we each choose our own story. Through the writing process Miller realized his life was boring and without meaning.
Through working with his co-writers and a seminar with screenplay guru Robert McKee, Miller learned the art of story. And just as a written story needs to have robust characters, strong motivation, setbacks, challenges, and resolution, so too does a well-lived life. I took immense comfort in the notion that a life without challenges and problems is not a very compelling life (story). Otherwise we are sleepwalking through a flower-filled meadow of rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns. It’s a snore fest. Anyone watching that movie would be walking out demanding a refund.
Miller re-evaluated the story of his life, got off the couch and began cycling across America. He started a mentoring project for boys growing up without fathers, as he had. He became a character (worthy of our time, attention, and caring) living a story worth watching.
If someone made a movie of our lives would it win an Academy award or go straight to the discount video bin? Are we living our best story or hoping to slip through unscathed? This audiobook forced me to consider my answers, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.