Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Don’t be crabby, try an ABBY!

trophy2MOST ANNUAL AWARDS ceremonies are an exercise is discomfort. First you have to squeeze into an ill-fitting tuxedo or pair of tight, strappy shoes, and then you have to sit through interminable acceptance speeches from teary recipients thanking everyone from their dog-sitter to their juice bar barista.

All of which makes the ABBYs an increasingly popular forum for reviewing the past 12 months. No need to wear anything (as long as your webcam isn’t on) and no faux humility or awkward political statements: just the results. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, the 2016 Andy Butcher Best of the Year prizes!

Series of the Year: This award has switched from previous years’ Best Movie (with an explanation of sorts offered here), and the inaugural trophy goes to Netflix’s Bloodline. A tangled family web of dysfunction, deceit, and drugs, it’s by turn tense and tragic, showing how when everyday moments align at their worst, they can produce a lifetime’s heartache. Well-acted and filmed in the atmospheric Florida Keys, it’s not too graphic visually (though episode 16 has some unnecessary nudity), but the air can get a little blue.

Album of the Year: The jury may still be out on whether The Monkees were ever a real band or just a television gimmick, but they gave us some unforgettable, bubbly songs (and be sure to check out Michael Nesmith’s terrific subsequent work with his First National Band). The three surviving members’ 50th anniversary release, Good Times!, recaptures some of that original, airy fun with compositions from contemporary hit writers like Rivers Cuomo and Noel Gallagher. Big, bright fun.

Podcast of the Year: Anyone who is serious about news, writing, and journalism needs to have Longform on their must-listen list. The extended conversations with a wide range of leading writers and editors are “an hour-long meditation on the craft of writing, as well as the people behind the stories that are dominating the news cycle or those that slipped under the radar and deserve greater attention.”

General Book of the Year: Where War Lives by Paul Watson. Although it’s almost ten years old, I heard of it only after a 2016 NPR interview with the author, whose 1993 photograph of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, won the Pulitzer Prize. Watson tells of his experiences covering some of the world’s greatest horrors, and the remarkable behind-the-camera story of how and why that award-winning picture continues to haunt him. Powerful and thought-provoking.

Christian Book of the Year: Many writers who try to deal with suffering and God’s apparent indifference to our pain tend to go one of two ways—He’s good, you just don’t understand, so just get over yourself; or everything’s so bad there’s just no light ahead. In Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain, Matt Bays somehow manages to find a middle way that offers both deep empathy and undimmed hope. Sharing his own journey through great pain, he offers comfort, challenge, and courage for those facing their own struggles or wanting to be there for others in theirs.

Project of the Year: It’s a privilege to collaborate with someone in telling their story; you get to walk in their world and their shoes, for a season. Helping Mark Moore tell his remarkable story in the forthcoming A Stroke of Faith: A Stroke Survivor’s Story of a Second Chance at Living a Life of Significance, was a highlight. How this highly successful businessman fought back from two life-threatening strokes, discovering a new passion and purpose, will inspire and encourage you.

Digital Resource of the Year: A Father’s Day gift subscription to the Sunday edition also gave me daily access to the digital New York Times. Clean and functional both on a computer and on my smartphone, it’s an invaluable source—if not the sole, final destination—for news and opinion. The daily mini crossword is a nice bonus, providing an ongoing challenge between me and one of my sons.

Insight of the Year: Many of us spend a lot of time trying to disguise or disown those fallen parts of ourselves that we don’t like. It’s much healthier to acknowledge and assimilate them, focusing more on the flipside strength or giftedness often hidden in the shadows of the “dark side.” I’ve found the Enneagram’s ancient wisdom about personality and nature helps integrate those two sides of our “coin,” founded as it is on the idea of redemption rather than rejection. There’s a good introduction to it all in The Road Back to You, a book and podcast by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: There’s nothing like learning about someone else’s struggles for putting your own in perspective. The dilemmas presented weekly to Dear Prudence are by turn sad, sobering, and say-what? Having long admired Emily Joffe’s warm heart, wisdom, and wicked wit, I wondered what would happen when she retired as Slate’s resident agony aunt in late 2015. Mallory Ortberg (daughter of pastor and author John Ortberg, for those who recognize his name) has proved a worthy successor, offering a similar mix with her own personality.

Person of the Year: Apparently the other candidates all decided to just stay home this year, knowing they’d be trailing in the dust of the shoo-in third-year recipient. She loves fiercely, cares tenderly, plays exuberantly, moves confidently, and smiles stunningly. Gentlessness and strength, grace and truth meet in my wife in a way I’ve never found in anyone else. Just call me The Winner.

Photo credit: shorts and longs via Foter.com/CC BY

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