Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

A drum roll for the year’s best

WHILE SANTA CLAUS was making his list and checking it twice, I was working on my own. This year’s review of what I considered “nice” also includes a “naughty” winner—or loser, I guess—for the first time. For all those who have been waiting, here are the 2018 ABBYs: the Andy Butcher Best of the Year awards.

Christian Book of the Year: As a bit of a contrarian, I wasn’t a big fan of John Eldredge’s best-selling Wild at Heart when it was first published. But on giving it another go, I found it to be a profoundly formative read. The same is true of his latest work, All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love. For me, it’s a bit like an oil painting; better as an inspiring, big-picture view than an up-close study. Still, it’s such a buoyant, hopeful view of the future that at one stage I burst into tears with longing.

General Book of the Year: Memoir isn’t simply another word for autobiography; it’s more of a mix of personal history, commentary, and sometimes even a bit of fiction. As someone who assists others in telling and reflecting on their own stories, I found Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir very helpful. It is part tutorial, part celebration of the art, and part thought-provoking inquiry into the nature of truth.

Podcast of the Year: The sophomore album slump is a well-known music phenomenon, but it’s not limited to that arena. Given the incredible success of the first Serial series, investigating the questionable murder conviction of Adnan Syed, it wasn’t surprising that the second—looking into the desertion of Bowe Bergdahl—was a comparative flop. But host Sarah Koenig and her team have come back strong with this year’s series, a deep dive into the imperfections of the American justice system as captured in the courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s in turn illuminating, inspiring, disheartening, and worrying.

Album of the Year: A few years back I had to wonder how I’d never heard of The Sundays before when I finally stumbled across them (“Here’s Where the Story Ends”). Now I feel the same about Snow Patrol after discovering their latest album, Wildness. Terrific indie rock, by turn plaintive and probing. Thoughtful songs that are more meandering than driving, whose open sound and unfussy sense of production probably beguile the craft that went into them. Sensitive ears alert: despite the band name, the lyrics are not all pure-driven.

Series of the Year: A certain amount of nostalgia makes me a sucker for anything filmed in Britain, but that’s not the only reason for honoring Bodyguard. This BBC production (available in Netflix) about a politician’s conflicted security officer was a twisty-turny, six-part gem. Given that the whole thing revolves around terrorism, it may seem a bit crass to say that as the plot unfolds it blows up some dramatic conventions. However, I can’t think of a better way of describing one of the “no way” moments. The wrap-up “arrival” was a bit of a let-down, but the journey there was great.

Movie of the Year: I’m not a big fan of the modern horror genre, which seems to rely on shock rather than story. It’s more like a theme park ride than a movie, aimed at the gut. With its slowly building tension, A Quiet Place didn’t make me jump out of my seat, but it sure had me squirming there; I actually watched part of it through splayed fingers. Though the story arc of a family under siege was familiar enough, the film had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing to the pleasingly downbeat end.

Digital Help of the Year: Never the techiest of people, I still often resort to scribbled, handwritten lists. But I also have a habit of throwing them away before I should. Not helpful. Two programs assist me in keeping tabs on my to-do lists. One of them is FollowUpThen, which allows me to send myself a reminder email on a specific date (and even time) in the future. The other is Braintoss, useful when I’m away from my computer. This mobile app sends email (and audio/photo attachments) automatically to my email, without my having to log in to those accounts.

Personal Insight of the Year: I don’t remember where I stumbled across this, but it’s something I wish I had known on several occasions in my earlier life when I was agonizing over the right thing to do. Contrary to what I believed as a young Christian, I have come to think that there’s not always a clear “God’s way.” Sometimes, it seems, what matters most is not making the right decision, but making the decision right. Do your due diligence, honor others by weighing the impact on them, and then step out.

Disappointment of the Year: A new category for 2018, as I feel that my recommendations for things to check out should be balanced with at least one “keep away” warning. Having never read J.D. Salinger’s “classic” The Catcher in the Rye, I decided I should see what all the fuss is about. At the end of its near-300 pages I am none the wiser: protagonist Holden Caulfield is an unappealing, disaffected, self-absorbed twit who knows less than he thinks. I hope the meds work out for him.

Person of the Year: The last four years’ award in this category discouraged any other nominees this time around. That’s just as well, as they would have simply been wasting their time. Please welcome to the stage once more, the incomparable Marcia Butcher! Counselor, creative, courageous, cute, classy, compassionate; the list just goes on and on. Best friend and best wife ever.

And your year? What would you recommend from your last 12 months? You can also check out my “best-of’s” for 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

My “bests” have links to websites that tell you a little more about them, but if you are going to buy one of the books, consider doing so from your local bookstore!

Photo by tncountryfan on Foter.com/CC BY-NC

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