MORE OFTEN THAN not, the work we do for our annual Best Of feature is a steady, monthslong process of passive accumulation and aggregation, an idle back-burner matter, a slow-burning candle: We print off stories (because we’re still dinosaurs in that way around these parts) that come across our desks, and file them away, knowing that, at some point down the line, they’ll find new life in the magazine.
Back in January, for instance, we heard about a Dairy Queen that had surpassed the company record for sales in a day—and promptly deposited it in an oft-forgotten folder in a seldom-opened drawer. Over the next few months, that folder continued to bulk up, netting a cache of ideas and people and curiosities that, in their own way, seemed to fit those loosely defined parameters that make up our Best Of. It’s a process, of course, that sloughs off any pretense of idleness as deadlines approach, and results in a harried scouring of past headlines and (gentle) interrogation of friends and family members. (You can thank my mother for the entry about the 6-year-old girl whose letter to a toy company ultimately sparked a new line of army figurines depicting women soldiers.)
I say all of this only to stress that this process is an ongoing one, that there is always something new and wonderful to highlight—and in that sense, Best Of is, at its core, something of a concentrated form of what we do at the magazine: We view our work largely as curators, casting a wide net, digging deep when our internal story radar startles mad and calls out, There’s something more here, trying to live up to that often moving-target mission we’ve set for ourselves: to tell stories that present new and unexpected facets of this state.
Call me biased (and in fairness, yes, I am), but it’s my objective opinion that the stories in this quarterly achieve those goals we’ve set for ourselves: After all, I’d guess most readers aren’t aware that Elvis once performed at a birthday party—and was so nervous, in fact, that he sang with the lights off. Or that there’s a restaurant in Rogers whose two-month reservation windows have been getting snapped up within five minutes of their announcements online. Or that there’s a truly remarkable story behind Evin Demirel’s lovely quote on our Contributors page: “Important journeys can take many forms. Some save lives, others heal hearts.”
In the months to come, as we start bidding adieu to 2019—and, notably, begin yet another cycle of Best-Of-idea-culling—I’ve got to imagine we’ll look back on this year with some fondness. But of course, the best is always yet to come.