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, ...

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