As a bachelor, I tended to house my books haphazardly. Browsing my shelves, you might have spied, say, a biography of Winston Churchill next to a John Stott Bible commentary next to a volume of Civil War history next to a Charles Dickens novel next to goodness knows what else. I couldn’t even manage to keep the seven Chronicles of Narnia bundled together.

After I got married, my wife thought it wise to bring some order to this chaos. She reasoned that the pleasures of serendipity ought to give at least some ground to practical considerations, like actually being able to find the book you’re looking for. And so I embraced my inner librarian, sorting and classifying my way toward something better resembling a tidy garden than a teeming rainforest.

But one great thing about bookshelves is that you can’t squelch serendipity, no matter how determined you are to impose rationality or functionality. Apply the rigors of Dewey and his decimal system all you like, but it won’t change the fact that no one book is exactly like its next-door neighbor. As readers, we should savor that kind of irreducible variety. It furnishes our minds. It enlarges our hearts. It stokes fires of curiosity. It testifies that the world is a big, beautiful, fallen, and endlessly fascinating place where, whatever you think you know, you have a thousand times as much left to discover.

This book-focused issue of CT leans into this tension between cultivation and wildness. Alongside our annual Book Awards, it includes a dozen adapted book excerpts covering a range of topics. Featured books were finalists in their respective awards categories, and some were winners. Excerpts were selected based on space considerations and on their capacity, as a collection, to surprise. But all were outstanding examples of Christian writers bringing biblical and theological insight to matters of contemporary concern.

It’s fair to wonder whether the resulting mix of authors and ideas feels like a hodgepodge. How, for instance, does the sun’s divine symbolism relate to the improbable mid-century evangelical influence exercised by Henrietta Mears? And why are stories of lives transformed by the Beatitudes bumping up against Percy Shelley’s poetic foreshadowing of the sexual revolution?

But even the apparent miscellany gestures toward a Christian approach to books. As believers, we weigh our reading choices carefully, doing our best to discern truth from error, wisdom from folly. We also roam freely across the literary landscape, cracking open whatever tickles our fancy, secure in the hymnwriter’s conviction that “This is my Father’s world / He shines in all that’s fair.”

Matt Reynolds is books editor of Christianity Today.

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