Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

My last-minute ABBY gift guide

RUSHING AROUND doing some last-minute Christmas shopping and short on ideas? You might find a helpful suggestion or two in my annual ABBYs—the Andy Butcher Best of the Year awards.

As this year draws to an end, we can probably all agree that it has once and for all disproved the notion that hindsight is 2020. Even looking back with all we know now, the past 12 months still don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense!

Nonetheless, I have cast my mind back to the start of the year and come up with 10 good things that I will carry with me into next year, even as I hope to leave a whole lot of 2020 in the rearview mirror. Maybe there’s a gift in there somewhere, for someone.

Christian Book of the Year: Reading John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry at the start of the year seems to have been somewhat providential. The subsequent pandemic slowdown and lockdown gave me an opportunity to practice some of the book’s compelling call. Namely, to find a truer rhythm of life through disconnection from the ceaseless chatter of our digital age and more inner quiet. Still very much a work in progress.

General Book of the Year: So many books about writing and editing are grammatically correct and grievously dull, proving that you can know how to say something properly, without knowing how to say it appealingly. So a big hurrah to Benjamin Dreyer for his Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. The Random House copy editing guru offers a masterclass in “show, don’t (just) tell,” with witty asides and hilarious footnotes. You’ll want to go back to it again and again, not just for the rules but for the smiles.

Movie of the Year: Hats off to Warner Bros. for streaming 2019’s Just Mercy free at the height of the racial distress—a moving, inspiring, discomforting dramatization of attorney Bryan Stevenson’s dogged pursuit of justice for some of those shamefully treated by a flawed legal system. Bonus: check him out speaking about what has influenced his selfless campaign, in this Desert Island Discs interview.

Documentary of the Year: While many nameless victims have died at the hands of Mexican drug cartels, the identity of Drug Enforcement Agency operative Enrique “Kiki” Camarena has long been known. But his brutal 1985 murder involved more than just the criminals, according to the disturbing Netflix documentary, The Last Narc. In it, former DEA agent Hector Berrellez charges U.S. government complicity. Unsettling but compelling.

Album of the Year: You’d never accuse Paul Weller of being mellow, but the fire that fueled the angry young man of The Jam and gave a summery brightness to The Style Council’s at times jazz-tinged Europop is now more of a quiet, deep glow. Still, by turn funky, soulful, and reflective, On Sunset is a great collection of songs from a master craftsman.

Series of the Year: The fact that it’s about soccer and set in my homeland (even filmed not far from where I lived for a time) automatically made Ted Lasso a contender, but the execution secured the win. The Apple TV original manages to balance humor with a hint of melancholy. The movie leads you to root for the titular American sports coach (charmingly played by Jason Sudeikis) who is recruited to manage a British soccer club, despite knowing nothing about the game. Ripe language at times.

Digital Help of the Year: When it comes to transcriptions, a (more expensive) real live human still beats artificial intelligence hands-down. Robots don’t do well with accents and tone, and can’t distinguish between what should be treated as a pause or a period. Having said that, I’ve found Descript offers the best rough-and-ready automated service around to guide me through either my shorthand notes, or an audio file.

Podcast of the Year: I’m a bit of a latecomer to Reply All, which sheds a fascinating insight into some of the quirkier corners of our tech world—like the Atlanta couple who had an endless string of people arriving at their front door claiming their lost phones were at the house. Part of the appeal is the delightful presentation by—and interaction between—the two hosts, P.J. Vogt and Alex Goldman.

Insight of the Year: I didn’t pay much attention to anyone pretending they had a handle on all that was happening and why during 2020. But I appreciated John Eldredge’s observation on what the results of all the turmoil were. He wrote in a Wild at Heart blog how the pandemic and all its fallout had exposed the “unprecedented level of comfort, convenience, and control” many of us had become used to. An ongoingly unsettling truth.

Person of the Year: Results may have been challenged in the political arena this year, but there’s no question of the—perennial—winner in this category. For the seventh consecutive year, the undisputed honoree is counselor and mentor Marcia Butcher. Clients know her to be kind, caring, compassionate, creative, and clever. I know all that to be just scratching the surface. She makes the Proverbs 31 woman feel inadequate.

So there you have it, my Ten Best of 2020. There are links to websites that tell you a little more about them, but if you are going to buy one of the books, please go brick-and-mortar and shop your local bookstore!

And what about your recommendations from a year many of us would largely like to forget?

Mockup photo created by valeria_aksakova – www.freepik.com

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