2020 Sucked. Here’s The Best Books We Read To Escape.

Cue up Vitamin C’s “Graduation” song, we did it. 2020 is [finally] coming to a close and it feels like some kind of an accomplishment that we’ve made it this far. It seems every year we talk about how time has that magical effect to both fly by and drag on but this year has somehow managed to feel like March for 300 days straight. I barely remember the month of August and somehow, Christmas is around the corner. Then we’re on to 2021, who knows what that has in store for us. I am tempering my expectations, to say the least. Cheers to surviving as best we could.

Rather than dwell on how much this year rightfully and truly sucked, TPM has decided to share our favorite books of the year. So great some have read them twice! While it may have been harder than normal to focus on reading, that hasn’t stopped our staff from disappearing into a good story every so often. I never thought I’d say this but I actually miss my subway commute and the dedicated time and space it provided to crack open a new book. Instead, I find myself binging “peak” 90s – early ’00s TV on Hulu to fill the time and let’s just say there’s only so much Beverly Hills 90210 my brain can take. With so few genuinely good things happening in 2020 (remember murder hornets?) finding joy in a book is one small mercy I, and many others, have gladly taken.

Whether it’s historical fiction, short stories, whodunnits, novels, or biographies, we’ve got something for everyone in our staff recommendations this month. So whether you need a last-minute gift for a loved one, or just want to transport yourself to some far off place in a year that is not 2020, give these books a read. Make sure to comment below with some of your favorite reads of the year. You can always purchase any of the books below by visiting our TPM Bookshop profile page. Be sure to check back again next month for some new staff reading recommendations, and if you’ve missed any, you can find all of our reading lists here. Happy reading!

Nicole Lafond, Special Projects Editor

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

“I read this book twice. During a year where darkness seemed to follow me (and all of us) around every corner, I started to crave reveling in some fictional darkness. This book did that and more — crack it open for some truly iconic self-deprecation, dark comedy and an inspiring story of real loss and real growth.”

Joe Ragazzo, Publisher

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

“The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth tells the story of the Buccmaster of Holland, an Englishman struggling to survive and struggling with his own purpose in life in the aftermath of the Norman Invasion of 1066. The novel is written in a kind of simplified old English and Kingsnorth aimed to use only words with English roots. Although reading actual Old English is basically impossible for modern audiences, Kingsnorth contested that to truly understand someone, you have to think in their words and terms. The effect is a beautifully haunting and harrowing tale of a group of guerrilla fighters trying to survive and defend their homeland.”

John Light, Managing Editor

Certain American States by Catherine Lacey

“I’ve had trouble maintaining my focus on fiction this year. Short stories have been good for a quick hit of the escape that a novel usually provides. Catherine Lacey’s stories about odd, often marginalized and always relatable characters are beautifully written and very funny — and they’re as far from the pace of the daily news cycle as possible.”

Kate Riga, Reporter

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

“As someone who truly loves short stories, I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered Alice Munro until this year. From the first story in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, I was hooked. She writes her female protagonists with a truth and complexity that feels both familiar and completely current. I immediately cleaned the shelves at my library of the rest of her books, and can’t wait to delve back into her world.”

Tierney Sneed, Ivestigative Reporter

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiassen

“I am saying good bye to the Trump administration with this satire of the Palm Beach society culture that the President inhabited when he was at Mar-A-Lago. No one captures the quirks of Florida living like Haissen (who, full disclosure, worked alongside my mom when she was a journalist). The book starts with one such high society maven getting eaten by a python and the investigation into her disappearance goes hilariously off the rails as the President — known only by his Secret Service name, Mastedon, in the book — gets involved.”

Jackie Wilhelm, Associate Publisher

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“I actually got this book last December during a holiday book swap and when I finally started it this fall, I devoured it in no time. I am a sucker for a multigenerational story and Gyasi’s debut novel tells a stunning and at times horrific tale of the descendants of two half-sisters who never meet, spanning from 18th century Ghana through modern-day America. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, this novel was especially powerful and one I would recommend 100 times over.”

Josh Kovensky, Investigative Reporter

Normal People by Sally Rooney

“I was addicted to this book as soon as I started reading it. It tells the story of a young Irish couple, but really goes into the kind of class differences that always exist but usually without any discussion. The novel is visceral though in its account of how both class and, now, technology mediate all of our lives, and gave the most realistic and familiar representation of those themes that I’ve ever read. I read this before the pandemic began this year, but it’s stuck with me throughout.”

Christine Frapech, Senior Designer

Blow by Blow: The Story of Isabella Blow by Detmar Blow

**Unfortunately, this book is unavailable on Bookshop at this time but all books deserve to be included!

TPM partners with Bookshop, a non-profit bookseller whose objective is to help independent bookstores survive. TPM and independent bookstores both earn a small percentage of revenue for each book sold. You can learn more about Bookshop here, and on this episode of the Josh Marshall podcast.

Latest Cafe
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: