Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Welcome to Beachside ABBY!

AS A BRIT, I sometimes feel a bit disloyal about my lack of enthusiasm for Downton Abbey; personally, I think Upstairs Downstairs did that whole toffs and serfs thing way better a generation or more back (look for it on PBS). So instead, let me recommend to you a Beachside ABBY. That’s the annual Andy Butcher Best of the Year awards, some of my favorite things of 2019, beaming to you from my coastal Florida home.

Christian Book of the Year: Having appreciated their Jesus Manifesto, I found even more to be thankful for in Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet’s 2012 followup Jesus: A Theography (Thomas Nelson). It’s a sweeping, swooping celebration of the deep riches of the Messiah, full of almost casual aside gems like this: “Ever wonder how important worship is? Ask satan. So highly does satan value worship that he was willing to give up everything (all the kingdoms of the world) if Jesus would worship him: ‘Fall down and worship me.’” Plenty more like that to chew on.

General Book of the Year: The New York Times may have beaten him to the punch on the Harvey Weinstein story, but Rowan Fallow’s subsequent work earned him a well-deserved, shared Pulitzer with the Times writers. His Catch and Kill (Little Brown) tells the back-story of the big story, bravely tackling big media’s guilty little secret of favoritism. An admirably restrained account, and a testimony to the importance of good journalism.

Podcast of the Year: Crime writer Michael Connolly draws on his newspaper past for many of his seamlessly well-written Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer thrillers, each a masterclass in great fiction. In Murder Book he follows the long-awaited resolution of a true-life old cold case. It’s a by turn moving and maddening take, enhanced by his slightly gruff voice, which sounds just like an ex-crime reporter should.

Series of the Year: Ricky Gervais’s original British The Office had a cringe factor to its humor that was expunged for the lighter American version. He continues to walk the line between cruel and comic with After Life (Netflix), following a weary journalist (is there a theme to this year’s awards?) coming to terms with the death of his partner. As always with Gervais, there are some misfires (he’s not as unfailingly funny as he seems to think he is), but for the most part he manages to blend tart and tender well in an ultimately touching tale. Salty language warning.

Documentary of the Year: Rather than focus on the music, Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation marked the great concert’s 50th anniversary by concentrating on the logistical, cultural, and political backstory—each with its own fascinating moments. A de-mythologizing reflection on a unique moment in American history whose tie-dye ripples continue to this day.

Movie of the Year: I didn’t grow up watching Mr. Rogers, but I remember reading the original 1998 Esquire profile that inspired It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the children’s television national treasure anchors a charming film that avoids the material’s pull toward mawkishness in favor of a lighter but at the same time weightier touch. I wish he’d been my neighbor.

Album of the Year: Given my natural tendency to be at least five years behind in matters of fashion—be they sartorial or musical—it’s appropriate that I loved The Black KeysLet’s Rock, the duo’s first album since their 2014 hiatus. Great garage rock blues: crunchy, scratchy, punchy, catchy. The kind that makes you want to nod your head and punch the air. Bonus: discovering the fun of their joint interviews—the slightly curmudgeonly drummer Patrick Carney balanced by the equally affable guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach.

Digital Aid of the Year: If Scrivener is a swimming pool, I have been in the shallow end with this helpful writing program for the past few years. But having watched an instructional video series for non-techy types, I am going deeper. From handling and sorting research to writing and editing, Scrivener is more than just a tool, it’s almost a partner any serious writer could benefit from.

Insight of the Year: Sometimes we can miss the Bible’s applicability because a particular passage or verse doesn’t come with a topic specifically tagged. Thanks to author and Shauna Niequest, in a podcast interview about the Enneagram, for the thought that marriage is about viewing our spouse as our “Number One Neighbor,” whom Jesus called us to love as ourselves.

Person of the Year: They say that the exception proves the rule, and so it is with the idea that the secret to a great marriage is not choosing the right person but being the right person. Because when you choose the right person, they make trying to be the right person easier: hence Marcia Butcher’s fifth consecutive win in this category. Through her strength and gentleness, warmth and wisdom, kindness and consideration she makes me look better than I am, feel better than I deserve, and want to be better than I am.

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!

And your year? What would you recommend from your last 12 months? You can also check out my “best-of’s” for 201420152016, 2017, and 2018.

Photo: Photo by vpickering on Trendhype/CC BY-NC-ND

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