Our Must-Reads of 2020

An unorthodox list for an “unprecedented” year.

It wouldn’t be December without a year-end list! We’re excited to share our “best” reads of the past 12 months — all that extra indoor time meant more chances to curl up and get lost in some great writing. See how our picks stack up against whatever you’ve distracted yourself with.

Normal People, by Sally Rooney

This bestseller was the star of every January book club; sure, it was published in 2018, but life had honestly been so chaotic the past few years that there’d been little time to indulge in fiction. Rooney’s rich, intimate prose seemed the perfect way to usher in what was sure to be a year of personal and professional growth, new friendships and maybe even a little travel! Like Connell and Marianne’s fumbling love story, isn’t it fun to remember the naivete of youth?

Covid Web
The WebMD “Coronavirus” page

Somehow both frank and ambiguous — exactly how dry does a cough have to be to constitute a “dry cough”? — this unexpected addition to the list became a sleeper hit. After this exhilarating read, it didn’t take long to seek out the follow-up pages: “Do I have Covid-19 or the flu?”; “Do I have Covid-19 or a cold?”; and the instant classic, “Do I have Covid-19 or allergies?”

Emails from Every Single Company
You’ve Ever Given Your Email Address

Lyft, Seamless, United Airlines, Fitbit, your dentist, your former dentist who stopped taking your insurance, the yoga studio you went to once and myriad other corporations you didn’t realize had your contact information all contributed to this veritable anthology of emails outlining their revised safety precautions for these unprecedented times. It’s nice to be reminded that you are a valuable member of their community, and they still really, really want your money.

The Long, Long Essay
Before the Sourdough Recipe

This winding epic takes readers through anecdotes from the author’s semester abroad in Tuscany, around not-entirely-scientific explanations of the bacteria growth process in yeast, all the way up to the chef’s hubby Joel’s climactic reaction to that first test of fresh, warm sourdough. But what was truly amazing about this tome was not the density of the prose, or the complexity of the narrative; it’s how goddamn far you had to scroll before reaching the actual recipe.

Texts from Other People in Your Zoom Meeting

How do coworkers in a virtual meeting share a knowing eye roll when their supervisor says something dumb? This genre-bending series of texted GIFs, emojis, gossip and inside jokes was inspired by a failed attempt to use Zoom’s seemingly private chat function, revealing that a meeting’s “host” can read all the shit-talking chats associated with the meeting. And Slack’s chorus of *fwip ta tata* alerts was anything but subtle. Old-school phone-under-the-desk texting saved the day.


Previously relegated to the realm of “guilty pleasure,” this year Twitter transformed itself into the leading source of up-to-the-minute breaking news and home to K-Pop stan armies. It’s now a legitimate use of time to scroll through your feed for an hour or four before bed instead of reading an actual book. Plus, can something be a guilty pleasure if it provides you with absolutely no pleasure whatsoever?

Wirecutter Reviews of
Air Purifiers

After an exciting escalation of a global pandemic that, arguably, really didn’t need escalating, a blanket of fire poison air made its way across the country. Against this apocalyptic backdrop, Wirecutter offered concise reviews of expensive machinery you could buy to make the air in your home less poisonous. Looking for a little more suspense? All but one of its recommended air purifiers are on back order for months, but you’ll have to click every single link to find out which!


There’s nothing like settling in to read a real book and instantly being interrupted by your spouse/partner/roommate/very loud neighbor’s Zoom happy hour to remind you that New York City apartments aren’t meant to be anything other than places to sleep and receive Amazon packages. This is where the tantalizing works of Zillow really shone. You can lie back in your bed that’s also your home office and feast your eyes on a seemingly endless array of four-bedroom Victorian gems that could be yours for under $60,000 if only you lived in Nowhere, Ohio.

The Greetings at the Beginning of Every Email

While “Hey! Hope you’re doing OK,” might have been a sufficient email starter in years past, the greetings of 2020 demanded a little something extra. The genre has seen a lot of exciting additions; our standouts are “I hope this finds you well”; “Hope you’re doing OK in these crazy times”; and, of course, “Sorry for the delayed response. Time has lost all meaning and it’s preposterous that anyone expects us to keep doing our normal work like everything’s fine, but here we are!”

Susanna Wolff ’10 is a writer living in Los Angeles.