For the longest time one of my favorite year-end rituals has been combing through David Brooks’s Sydney Award winners for the year to find which ones I’d missed and to re-read favorites from earlier in the year.
That said, the various folks who contribute to our project here read quite a bit too. So this year we are going to try something new: The Eliot Awards. Named for T. S. Eliot, who may well be the third patron saint of this little site of ours, the Eliot Awards are given at the end of every year to recognize great achievements in cultural criticism and reporting in the past calendar year. So, without further delay, here are the first annual Eliot Awards:
Trippy sci-fi fiction is not the sort of thing you normally look for on a sports site like SBN, but Bois is one of the more imaginative writers going right now and the team at Vox gave him the resources to turn this crazy idea of his into a totally engrossing read. If you can only read one long-form thing from the web this year, this should be it. (Disclosure: I freelance for SB Nation and know the guy who designed this. But even if I did not I would still tell you it’s my favorite thing I’ve read on the internet this year.)
One of the best pieces I read all year—and somehow one that very few of my friends read. If you missed it, fix that. It’s one of the most perceptive pieces I’ve read on class and culture in 2017 America.
In both style and content, Matt Schmitz is one of my favorite writers. Agree or disagree, he’s one of the best young stylists around in my opinion. The other thing I love about his work is that he has this curious idea that theology matters and that if we actually care about our theology it should change how we live in ways that even we might find uncomfortable. This take down of boomer religion (and of Pope Francis) is one of his best pieces, though I could have chosen several others to put here. The last paragraph of this piece in particular is perfect.
One of the most read features of the year, this piece by the late Tizon describes his immigrant family’s disturbing relationship to a woman that his grandfather “gave” to his mother when she turned 18.
This essay is as good a take as any I’ve seen on why turning over decisions about day-to-day human life to algorithms could lead us to a dark place. It’s not just that the results are ugly and hostile to health, though they usually are. It’s that “but the computer made it,” is awfully hard to argue with.
Smoking meats is one of my favorite hobbies (only hobbies, really) so this piece had my full attention and it didn’t let me down. Chau traveled to South Carolina to tell the story of two pitmasters, both known across the country for their work, who are now working only a few miles from each other in downtown Charleston.
In this piece, Alexander looked at the rapidly increasing cost of many different goods and services in the United States, noticing a similar trendline across healthcare, education, housing, and several other sectors. The scary thing? Costs are rapidly going up and there aren’t any easy answers that would explain why.
This story is amazing for two reasons: First, it is a great piece for helping readers understand one of the most common ways that fraud happens in the US. Second, because it tells the entertaining and slightly disturbing story of how one man turned his quest to unmask the scammers into an obsession.
Tech writer Thompson explains, more clearly than anything else I’ve seen, why the local newspaper is failing and what a digital-era local news organization should look like. The tragedy of newspapers is both that they ought to take his advice and that they almost certainly cannot take his advice.
I’m particularly inclined to like this because I totally agree with the main argument of the piece: Christopher Nolan’s best film is The Prestige. But Nayman makes that argument in interesting and striking ways by surveying Nolan’s entire body of work while also offering a close reading of The Prestige which helped me see new things in it even though I’ve probably watched it a half dozen times. If you’re a Nolan fan, this piece is for you.
Pollack’s piece is relatively straightforward: America has a ton of really old politicians and we aren’t really sure what will happen when so many fixtures in the top levels of government retire or die.
The idea that coastal elites live in a bubble is old hat at this point. But sometimes it is still jarring to realize exactly how segregated American society has become. And reflecting on what that segregation might mean for our nation’s future can be sobering. This piece by Shafer and Doherty highlights the problem as it relates to journalism and publishing.
Browne’s piece is, unsurprisingly, an excellent long-form essay working at the intersection of race, sports, and politics in America. There’s been no shortage of pieces on Kaepernick, but for my money this is the best.
Talbot’s feature is one of several that we will feature here that took a closer look at the personal effect of the opioid crisis in rural America. All of them draw out different aspects of the horror, but Talbot’s is perhaps the most vivid and maybe the most sad.
This piece explores the crisis facing many American young people who are struggling with crippling anxiety that in some cases prevents them from even going to school and in other cases stands just behind the seemingly successful student.
The opioid crisis is layered. One of the main issues behind it is that the interests of capital mostly militate against the health of rural America generally and against the specific attempts to revive depressed regions in particular. This story is one example of how this process works.
Arnade has become one of the main chroniclers of the decline of rural America and the plight of the white working class. Though he has a tendency to insert himself into the story more than I’d like, he’s often well worth reading. This is him at his best.
It’s hard to sum the piece up well. But if you’ve spent any time thinking about it or reading on the topic, you know that child custody cases and broader questions about the state’s rights over a family are thorny and extremely complicated. This piece will help you realize exactly how complicated it can get.
There’s a sad inevitability to Luscombe’s piece. Nothing in it is terribly surprising—we know that porn is ubiquitous and that it changes the brain. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that it would also contribute to reduced virility in men. Even so, Luscombe’s piece manages to shock or grieve readers at several different points.
One of our contributors gave this piece the award for “most likely to cause your blood to boil.” It is that. But it is also a massively important piece on how seniors in America are exploited and which shows how in America two of the most vulnerable groups are our youngest members and our oldest.
Biagetti’s piece on the crossover between the embrace of big box stores that are acceptable in bourgeois circles, like Ikea, and the underlying social breakdown that is one of the main stories of 2017 is intriguing and well worth your time.
If you work in marketing and SEO, as I do, then this story is mostly old news. But if you don’t, here’s the short version: Small changes to how Google ranks items in search or how it displays information on search result pages can often make or break a business. This feature tells the story of one business and of how hard it was for the owner to get anywhere with Google, even though their new feature (which was destroying his business) was created using information that he himself had researched.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time on real-time strategy games like Age of Empires. This piece is a great review of the genre’s history and a comparison between real-time and turn-based strategy games, such as Civilization and Europa Universalis.
One of the themes in a number of these essays is the way 2017 has exposed long-standing frailties in our culture in ways even more apparent than what had been hinted at in 2015 and 2016. This piece, by best-selling author Nicholas Carr, explores how the emergence of AI is changing the human brain, making us think and behave more like robots and less like humans.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).