Bookworms fret inconsolably about how little time there is to read all the books they would like to read. As Christianity Today's book review editor, and a bookworm myself, I can testify to this mindset. Sometimes, contemplating the unread volumes under which my shelves perpetually groan, I wish the publishing industry would take a few years' intermission, so I can begin catching up.
I suspect music lovers share in this anguish. Think of all the songs stored in our friends' iPods, the CDS stocked at entertainment retailers, and the vinyl records housed in our grandparents' attics. How can anyone listen to everything they might enjoy hearing?
This relentless accumulation of intellectual and artistic output goes some way toward explaining why we experience these "year's best" features as both blessing and curse. Anyone fond of books and music (check back next month for CT's movie awards) will want to know which authors and musicians distinguished themselves over the preceding year. We just wish the objects of our fondness wouldn't multiply quite so quickly.
So why would CT pile another stack of recommendations atop the already overwhelmed? Why, if you come to our awards issue weary and heavy laden, will we not give you rest?
One could surely invoke George Mallory's celebrated explanation for undertaking to climb Mount Everest: "Because it's there." We can't very well ignore the good stuff that thriving publishing houses and record labels keep pumping out. An extended intermission, whatever respite it might offer the harried bookworm, makes little business sense.
But beyond marketplace dynamics, we should insist on a scriptural warrant for commending excellence. Consider the apostle Paul's closing exhortation to the Philippians: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Phil. 4:8).
Not unlike most other years, 2011 had such things in abundance. Here are our best efforts to identify them.
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