Goodbye, 2020 – you won’t be missed. We gave you a hero’s welcome, rolling out the red carpet with champagne, fireworks, resolutions and hope, and you repaid us with a global pandemic, raging wildfires and deepening political rancor. And on top of all that, Chadwick Boseman died? Just a trash year, top to bottom.
But if you squint really hard at this terrible, no-good, very bad year, it is possible to make out some thin silver linings. One positive byproduct of spending so much time socially isolating in our homes is that many of us found ourselves with more time to read and fewer excuses not to.
We’re big readers at USA TODAY, and this year we turned to books for comfort, wisdom and good ol’ escapism. Here are the titles, old and new, that helped us survive 2020.
'Red, White & Royal Blue,' by Casey McQuiston
A queer love story between the (fictional) president’s son and (fictional) prince of England?! Unheard of. Blasphemous to some, even. But to me? Absolutely perfect. Breathtakingly beautiful, ridiculously romantic and surprisingly steamy. It will make you forget – albeit briefly – there’s a global pandemic where even going on a simple first date comes with risks. As cheesy as it sounds, it gave me hope that romance and erstwhile maskless freedom await this hellscape. And if you’re reading this and are like ‘Wow, what a charming guy,’ that’s very sweet, and you can DM me on Twitter.
– David Oliver, reporter
'Becoming,' by Michelle Obama
In a stressful year with kids at home and balance elusive, it was utterly relatable to read of Obama’s struggles to maintain her sense of self, to be the parent she wanted to be and to keep all the plates spinning as her husband immersed himself in politics and eventually won the presidency. It was inspiring, too, to read of her own drive to make a difference in the world and for her family, and the book provided an important reminder to think about the world outside ourselves.
– Julia Thompson, travel and entertainment editor
'My Year of Rest and Relaxation,' by Ottessa Moshfegh
Look, my brain’s a bit broken, as my antidepressant prescriptions will attest. So in the midst of a global pandemic that saw us all shuttered in our homes going slowly mad with boredom, did I, an already clinically depressed person, reach for romance? Escapist fantasy? Motivational self-help? No, I leaned into the horror with Moshfegh’s breathtakingly dark novel about a young woman determined to drug herself into non-consciousness for a year alone in her apartment in an effort to feel, think and be as little as possible without dying. Reading it during a socially isolating pandemic was the literary equivalent of tonguing an aching tooth, and I loved every second of it.
– Barbara VanDenburgh, entertainment editor
'American Royals' and 'Majesty,' by Katharine McGee
This juicy series imagines what would have happened if the USA had a royal family for the press and the people to obsess over (you know, instead of obsessing over the latest development from Meghan and Harry). There is an endearing allure to its alternate reality, a world that feels like ours but is a bit more fairy tale, a bit less tragic. Mixed with a solid few romances and a devilish diva for a villain, “Royals” and its sequel were the perfect way for me to escape 2020, even for a few hours.
– Kelly Lawler, TV critic
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'If I Had Your Face,' by Frances Cha
Fiction helped me escape from the headlines this year, and this debut novel kept me rapt as it dived into the lives of four Korean women grappling with impossible beauty standards. As I hunkered down in sweats, Cha’s tour through Seoul was both glamorous and gritty as her characters confront a cultural addiction to plastic surgery. I can’t wait to read what she writes next.
– Andrea Mandell, entertainment editor
'Anxious People,' by Fredrik Backman
It might sound counterintuitive to read a book with the title “Anxious People” in 2020, but Backman’s latest novel hits the sweet spot between profoundly insightful and preposterously funny. I read the author’s best-seller “A Man Called Ove” earlier in the year and became a fan instantly. I am a member of several online book forums, and when one member wrote of how they wanted to hug the book upon finishing it, I knew it was next on my list. “Anxious People” follows a desperate parent who tries and fails to rob a bank and then flees into an open house, taking everyone hostage. Not exactly a feel-good story on the face of it, but hope, as the book shows, comes when least expected. Lo and behold, after turning the last page, I hugged this book tightly with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes.
– Mary Cadden, database editor
'It's Never Too Late,' by Kathie Lee Gifford
Gifford's new memoir is a really nice read. I've always loved her kindness and upbeat spirit on TV, and I could easily sense that same iconic cheerfulness in her book, which teaches readers to chase whatever they’re passionate about. She also shares anecdotes of people who have had a big influence on her life, whether it's her late husband, Frank, or longtime co-host Regis Philbin, and that emphasized to me how thankful we should be for our support systems in 2020.
– Jenna Ryu, intern
Charlotte Holmes series by Brittany Cavallaro
Cavallaro’s binge-worthy four-book Charlotte Holmes series – beginning with “A Study in Charlotte” – is a modern spin on the Sherlock Holmes mythology with plenty of whodunit thrills and young-adult soapiness. Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are the great-great-great-grandkids of the esteemed detective duo, and the youngsters also make for an odd sleuthing couple, solving murders and dealing with assorted members of the Moriarty family while figuring out who they really are vs. who they’re supposed to be.
– Brian Truitt, film critic
'The Hunger Games' series, by Suzanne Collins
“The Hunger Games” jump-started my love of reading during quarantine, and I haven’t looked back. I desperately needed an escape from the trials of 2020, and Katniss Everdeen did not disappoint with her resilience and bravery. After each book, I went back and watched the film adaption with my sister, which was extra-special. And to top it off, Suzanne Collins blessed us this year with an extra novel, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which is the longest book I have ever read! I have gone on to read almost 30 books this year because of this series.
– Cydney Henderson, reporter
'The Martian Chronicles,' by Ray Bradbury
I first read this collection of science fiction stories, written by the peerless Bradbury in 1950, before my freshman year of high school as an assigned summer reading book. This past summer, I suddenly got an urge to revisit it – and I’m so glad I did. The book’s stories are bitingly ironic, edge-of-your seat scary and deeply moving. Plus, I’ll admit: Reading about people escaping Earth to live a new life on a distant planet does hit different during a pandemic.
– Charles Trepany, fellow
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Books that got us through 2020: USA TODAY entertainment experts share