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Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  7,251 Ratings  ·  399 Reviews

From the author of Blue Like Jazz comes a road-trip memoir about three months spent crossing the country in a Volkswagen camping van, wondering out-loud if there is more to life than nine-to-five jobs, than the ruts the entire world seems to be stuck in. Follow Don and Paul as they dive headlong into the deepest of human questions and find answers outside words?answers tha

Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Published (first published August 1st 2005)
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Feb 26, 2009 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My new favorite author Donald Miller (he wrote Blue Like Jazz) and his friend Paul take a road trip from Texas to Oregon. Miller believes all of us must leave home at some point to discover who we are really meant to be. This book is a part of his journey towards himself and God.

Miller feels most of us get caught asking "how" in life. How do I get a good job? How do I find a good wife? How do I buy a nice house? Yet Miller asks the "why" questions, which make his life more difficult. Why do I ne
Apr 10, 2014 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Midway through the book I was not enjoying the book terribly much, it was good, but it wasn't comparing to A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It wasn't too deep and I hadn't been awed by any truths yet, it was simply telling of the adventures Don and Paul had on their trip to Oregon, nothing too spiritually or otherwise deep. Then I was reading it before class one day and the girl next to me excitedly exclaims, "I love that book! Doesn't it just make you want to go on a road trip?". And since ...more
Trevor Dailey
Through Painted Deserts is an autobiographical account of Miller driving with his friend Paul from Texas up to Oregon in a Volkswagen camper van. In many ways this book is a idealistic escape recounting an idealistic escape. To summarize, Don and Paul slowly make their way up to Portland, OR, sleeping in their van (mostly) the entire way. The friends encounter vehicular issues during their journey, sometimes as simple as a carburetor gas-cap but sometimes much more. I don't want to give too much ...more
When I first read this book, it was entitled "Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance", and I picked it up because of the obvious allusion to Robert Pirsig's classic "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (not that I had ever read it, mind you). I read it, really enjoyed it, and then had a friend tell me about Blue Like Jazz well over a year later; I actually did not make the connection that it was Miller's story until well into BLJ when he made an oblique mention to his trip. At any r ...more
Dec 06, 2010 Evan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had to put this book down. I loved Blue Like Jazz, and saw this book for $5 at a used bookstore right before a long bus trip. This book was great, while I was on the bus. All the feelings of traveling and doing something new, hopes, dreams etc...make this book enjoyable. That is when you might actually care about all the "fluff" that this book contains about Miller's own road trip with his friend. I found that once I got home and tried to read it, I felt like it was a waste of time. reading fo ...more
Samantha Kurtz
Feb 19, 2016 Samantha Kurtz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I purposely chose to read this book last out of all the Donald Miller books. I knew it would be my favorite and it did not disappoint. I’ve always been attracted to Miller’s writing style; something about it really resonates with me. It's more of a conversational style of writing. This book is about a road trip that Miller and a friend (Paul) take from Houston, TX to Portland, OR. I think the subtitle to this book perfectly sums up the story. “Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road.” I really e ...more
I loved this book despite its many flaws. The writing is uneven. The banter doesn't always come across that way and seems incredibly mean spirited. Not at all related to the uneven tone, the author also periodically behaves like a complete jackass and apparently had no shame about it because he wrote it down and shared it with us without apology.

That said, sometimes the writing is truly beautiful. And the author's experiences are similar to some of my own road trips in one way or another (a cou
Elizabeth Hernandez
After reading this I really want to read the other books in his repertoire. It was a nice light read that made me thing about the plans I had originally made for my life. Plans to see more of the world than I've seen so far and plans that didn't involve settling down in one location. I like the idea that while God doesn't always give us all that we ask for He does give according to our needs and that the life He gave us is meant to be enjoyed with all His simple blessings. We don't need much to ...more
Drew Lochhead
Mar 14, 2009 Drew Lochhead rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book made me want to sell everything, buy a VW van, get my own dog and travel the country with no agenda. Essentially, "the entitled rich kid's after college dream." Some day I will get there. A great book about traveling, God, and big questions. One of the things that will stick with me from this book is at a point where he talks about Marriage as this beautiful companionship. He was able to describe marriage as I have always thought about it. It is pretty amazing to experience that now wi ...more
Ben Adkison
I'm not going to give a full review of this book because I'm not sure that it's really necessary. However, because I believe the academic exercise of reviewing books is a necessary one to synthesize thoughts concretely, I will at least provide a list of the highlights of my thoughts on Through Painted Deserts.

- This is Donald Miller's first book in revised and rewritten form originally entitled Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance.

- It's apparent that this is some of Miller's earlier wri
Feb 23, 2016 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
In Through Painted Deserts, two young wannabe hippies, 30 years after Woodstock, take off from Houston, Texas in a VW bus. Heading to Oregon, they also long for the experience of the road. Along the way, they crash with friends and hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and find ways to over mechanical troubles for which the old buses were infamous. When things look desperate, someone always seems to offer a hand. Thereâs the mechanic that stops when theyâre beside the road in the desert and an ...more
Jan 22, 2014 Ashley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Since I've wanted to be friends with Donald Miller for quite some time, it was a pleasure to take a road trip with him and be reminded that God is dazzling us. I feel like anytime I read Miller's writings, I'm reminded of what is important - not necessarily the specifics but the major ideas that make something worth the while. Definitely a book I'd recommend, really to anyone. Even if you aren't interested in spirituality at all.
Christopher Kanas
The original released title for this book was called Prayer and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which I believe is a more revealing title than the rerelease be Nelson publishers. (I'm not sure why the title was changed but I can guess the last seven letters are l-a-w-y-e-r-s.) Anyhow, Miller is indeed following the same formula of Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And considering this is Miller's first book, he does quite well blending the themes of travel, rel ...more
Mduduzi Maphanga
Aug 11, 2014 Mduduzi Maphanga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant book! If you're an evangelical Christian looking for a self critical book of this type of practice of the faith, this is it. If you're attracted by the faith but somewhat repulsed by its institutional structures this book is a refreshing look at the faith through a bunch of young people's life experiences. They question everything not out of rebellion but a genuine zest for the search of truth. The book also challenges the traditional notions of success but instead promotes the idea ...more
Jan 12, 2015 Amanda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book at my local thrift shop, it sat on my shelf for quite some time, and at my nearest convenience, it will be going back to my local thrift shop.

It isn't very often that I truly study a book when I'm browsing used books, and it was because of this that I failed to notice that it was religious. As a whole, I don't enjoy religious books, even if I can tolerate a spiritual aspect to things.


The imagery was a bit much at times. Most of the time actually. Pretty prose don't reall
Jan 22, 2015 Helene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the perfect book for reading during dark winter evenings in the Midwest. You get to cross from Houston to Oregon with 20-somethings, Donald and friend, Paul, in an old VW van. It seems cliche, but the book is a set of musings and stories about nature, God, people, life, and car repair. The good part is that it is not overly cute, or dogmatic or "chill". It's just an interesting and sometimes humorous tale to ride along with. My favorite conversation was about "the perfect woman." The two ...more
Jan 12, 2016 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up Through Painted Deserts for $2 at a reduced-price bookstore -- I've read a couple books by Donald Miller before, so I expected it to be money well-spent. And I suppose it was, though I would still recommend his other works that I've read (Jazz, Miles) first.

This book tells the story of a trip the author took with his friend Paul from Houston to Oregon via the Grand Canyon, back in his younger days. Miller doesn't specify exactly when it was, but he's clearly not older than his early
Brian M.
Jan 09, 2016 Brian M. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought and read this book first when it was released under the title Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance. I still have a paperback copy on my shelf and have re-read it many times.

When I first read the book, I was not too far from the age of Don and Paul on their trip. Don and I grew up in similar situations and I can relate to many of the life questions which he wrestles with throughout the book and the journey. I feel like his journey is my journey and so my connection to the book is
Jul 23, 2011 Kurt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's an alright travelogue, but I like Miller's other work more.
Jeremy Manuel
I've enjoyed Donald Miller's books in the past. In fact, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road is the third book that I've read of Miller's. In this case though, I found my thoughts on the book much more mixed than I did with either Blue Like Jazz or A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

Through Painted Deserts is a book about Miller's road trip with a friend in an old Volkswagen van. The story is about Miller leaving his hometown in Texas and seeing more of the world. T
Nov 17, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Donald Miller has the uncanny ability to put into words things and ideas and desires that hit me right at the core but that I didn’t even know I should be thinking about. I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately — changes in myself, changes in my life — and I didn’t quite realize that when I picked up Through Painted Deserts, that it would feel like he was talking right to me.

This book of Don’s is a memoir of a time in his life when he needed a change and he took it in the form of a road tri
Ray Zimmerman
Oct 30, 2014 Ray Zimmerman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
I hesitate to put the label “Christian Writing” on this book, because that label automatically gains approval by some people and rejection by others. In all fairness to the book, it is a great read, and any reader will enjoy the story. The book is certainly more spiritual than religious, and not in any way dogmatic. The story of their hike into and back out of the Grand Canyon is in itself justification for reading the book.

Donald Miller began his writing career with this work of nonfiction dra
Jason Lilly
Though not as powerful or memorable as some of his other works (most notably Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality and Searching for God Knows What), Through Painted Deserts is still a compelling and thought-provoking road trip story of a pinnacle moment in Donald Miller's life.

This is the story of two friends, a road trip idea, and an archaic but reliable Volkswagen van. Don tells the story of his growing friendship with Paul as they travel west towards Oregon. Don doe
Jul 08, 2014 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
Donald Miller is my favorite writer of spiritual matters, if not my favorite writer altogether. One of the reviews on the cover of my copy of Through Painted Deserts calls his style "moody and meandering," and that's what I love about his style. It sounds like my journals or blogs, working through life and mystery and love and God in stream-of-consciousness, but his work is so much better! I love how he articulates faith and God without religious verbiage, the way he sees it in metaphors and poe ...more
Justin Tapp
Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road was written after Blue Like Jazz (my review) but the events in the book took place mostly before Blue Like Jazz. Whoever thought it was a good idea to make a movie from Blue Like Jazz must be the same person who thought it be a good idea to have Don read his own audio books. He has a monotone way of reading that puts you to sleep, but it's generally my preference to hear the author tell his own story.

Don and his friend Paul take a
Jun 27, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I may have been a bit biased going into this book and admit that my expectations were very, very high. Donald Miller is a beautiful story teller, and while many may expect TPD to be like his most famous work, Blue Like Jazz, there are several distinctive differences which make this book a force all its own. TPD follows Miller in his early twenties as he and a friend embark on a cross-country road trip. It is during this voyage that Miller discovers friendship, beauty and God in everyday occurren ...more
Mark Thomas
When I reached the end of this book, I wished I had seen the third from the last sentence in the book before I had for our benefit, this is what Mr. Miller says at the end regarding this book "I wanted to take a break from the deep theological stuff and just take you on an old journey I took once and introduce you to some wonderful people."

It is easy to enjoy a Donald Miller book as his writing style is so conversational and his ability to story tell is great. But to me what makes him
This was my least favorite (and I think the least well written) of Miller's books. Still, it has its moments, and I did enjoy it.

"Maybe we're all on a pilgrimage," Miller writes. "Maybe it's all one big road trip through the cosmos, through the nothingness. Maybe we're all going somewhere. Or really, maybe we are all being taken somewhere."

Two guys (Miller and his new friend Paul) load up in a 70's VW box van. They voyage from Houston to the Grand Canyon to Portland--in a quest for God along the
Aug 03, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An entertaining read, but not nearly as good as I was expecting based on two other books of his which I read in previous years. I suspect this work may have been rejected by the publishers prior to Miller gaining his well-deserved reputation as a writer, and resubmitted later.

MIller's musings here belong to the "road/journey" genre. In places his words wax poetically and profoundly. At other times he comes across as an immature, self-absorbed, and irresponsible smart-aleck (enjoying God in the
J.E. Jr.
Aug 15, 2012 J.E. Jr. rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle-books, memoir
What hasn’t heard of Donald Miller in the last 6 or 8 years? After hitting the scene with the still-popular Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, he continues to be a known and respected writer in the Christian sub-culture.

I own Blue Like Jazz, but I’ve never read it. Through Painted Deserts was my first Donald Miller memoir; perhaps that’s fitting, since it is essentially a re-edited edition of HIS first Donald Miller memoir, Prayer And The Art Of Volkswagen Maintenan
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Book #9: Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller 3 2 Jan 29, 2013 07:57AM  
  • This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God
  • Mudhouse Sabbath
  • Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself
  • A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey
  • Drops Like Stars
  • The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
  • Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America
  • The Christian Culture Survival Guide: The Misadventures of an Outsider on the Inside
  • Chasing Daylight: Seize the Power of Every Moment
  • Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following As an Ordinary Radical
  • Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die, or (the eschatology of bluegrass)
  • Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action
  • Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Donald Miller grew up in Houston, Texas. Leaving home at the age of twenty-one, he traveled across the country until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, where he lives today.

Harvest House Publishers released his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, in 2000. Two years later, after havin
More about Donald Miller...

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“Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.” 558 likes
“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?

It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you:

Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn't it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”
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