Happy Holidays, fellow nerds! This is the second in a series of posts wrapping up a different year in a different way. Between now and the start of 2021, I’ll be recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. And if you’re in the mood for more book discussion, Mary wrote a fabulous guest post for NGN earlier this month about her favorite books of 2020.
I read 22 books this year.
(Technically, it’s more like 21.99 books at the time I’m writing this, but let’s round up for the sake of simplicity.)
For me, that’s a huge number. It’s almost double the number of books I read in 2019.
And yet I still found myself slightly nervous about sharing it. I found myself writing long-winded explanations about why I don’t read more—defenses mostly centered on a job in publishing and a past as an English major who read so many books in college she burned herself out for the next decade.
I found myself comparing my reading habits to those of everyone around me—and coming up short.
That’s when I knew I had to write about it.
Because that’s been my experience through much of 2020. Comparing myself to everyone around me—and coming up short.
I didn’t become an expert chef (or even a particularly functional one). I didn’t learn a new language or meditate every day or take up running. I didn’t write more blog posts or start a new hobby or even spend that much more time outside appreciating nature.
I didn’t become a more voracious reader or a reader of more respectable literature.
And for most of this year, I beat myself up about all of it.
But then, I thought about those 21.99 books. And like they have for my entire life, the books guided me to the exact lesson I needed.
Your story doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s to be good enough. You should never feel bad about or downplay something that makes you happy. You should embrace it. And if you have the strength, you should share it.
And if the way I shared books with loved ones, talked about them with friends, and got excited to read them with my morning coffee was any indication, every single one of those precious 21.99 books I read this year made me happy.
And now I want to share it.
I started the year on a bit of a literary fiction kick with titles like Circe by Madeline Miller and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Both of those were stories of love that defied expectation and happiness that came in places that the characters’ worlds didn’t understand or accept.
Then, COVID-19 happened, and gone was any semblance of perceived respectability in most of my choices of reading material. Much like my reality TV obsession, literary fluff of all forms became a security blanket—providing me with the happy endings, exotic places, and relationships that still seem so far away. And in every book I turned to, in every love story I eagerly devoured, I kept running into the same themes, themes that were slightly brighter reflections of those I found in what I read before the world turned upside-down.
Your happiness is your own. Whatever makes you happy is good enough.
Those themes were found in the delightful romance of Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston as Alex and Henry navigate falling in love and standing in their truth as the sons of an American president and the British royal family. They were found in the American Royals series by Katharine McGee, which had me captivated by a fictional American royal family and the ways they define love and happiness on their own terms. They were found in The Idea of You by Robinne Lee—a stunningly sexy story starring a middle-aged mother who gets her groove back with a twentysomething boy band member. And they were found in Beach Read by Emily Henry—a story as much about writing what makes you happy as it is about finding someone who makes you happy.
But perhaps my favorite example of those themes was The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune, which stole my heart with a fantastical story of a lonely man just getting by whose world (and heart) is opened up by a chosen family of young magical beings and the man who watches over them. Linus’s journey to true happiness—and the rejection of anyone else’s ideas of what he should be accomplishing with his life—filled me with a warmth and inspiration only the best books can bring. There’s a reason I’ve recommended it to my friends and even to my mother this year. Its lesson of embracing the life that makes you happy—no matter what it might look like to others—is one that I think we all need a reminder of every so often.
I read a lot of books this year that wouldn’t make most people’s Top 10 lists. I read enemies-to-lovers tales (The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa), Old Hollywood historical fiction (A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott), and a charming college romance told from the points of view of everyone else but the main couple (A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall). But every single story carries with it a memory—an experience. I started the year reading on planes and in coffee shops and ended it reading on my couch and at the breakfast table. Each of those moments—those little rituals—helped me believe in happy endings at a time when they feel so distant.
The two boys kiss. The found family is safe. The old lovers reunite. Hillary Clinton is president (in the pages of Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, at least).
Everything works out in the end. I can’t think of something I needed to believe in more in 2020.
I may not have read more than 21.99 books this year. But the books I did read made me happy.
And they taught me that’s more than enough.