2020 was the year the world got really small.
It shrunk to the size of a house, if you were lucky, that you didn’t leave for days, or to the size of a single room, say a bedroom sometimes turned office for two. Toilet paper became something to stockpile. A yard became an actual luxury. A walk became something primal. Family dinners became something more: ways to keep local restaurants from going under. Otherwise, teenagers became people you chanced upon in the kitchen like coins in a video game on the rare moments they left their own rooms, literally left to their own devices.
We were all just trying to level up in 2020.
We were all students and teachers educating each other in virtual spaces. Scientists raced to find a vaccine. Health care workers kept people alive day after day after day, even those who ridiculously refused to wear a mask. Grocery store workers risked their lives telling you which aisle you might find that thing that may be out of stock. We all fought to not forget how to hope. Or just fought. For a while, officials even told San Diegans they couldn’t surf.
But for the rare centenarian who survived the 1918 Spanish Flu, 2020’s degree of difficulty had never been seen in the whole wide world — a world so big you couldn’t hope to see it all in an entire lifetime — unless you were the novel coronavirus. Then you literally traveled unseen, could race across continents, see and savage the world in a year, end lifetimes entirely.
End times. Sure felt like that early on. So most of us stayed put, didn’t leave the county or the city or the neighborhood. Didn’t escape, or tried to escape by reading about people who weren’t us, problems that weren’t ours.
2020 was the year I set out to read 30 books. Seemed a lofty goal a year ago given the demands of the opinion section I oversee, my duties as national president-elect and then president of the Society of Professional Journalists and my family. Thirty books? I read 60.
I had a lot of escaping to do.
Some of the books I chose — or that chose me — were about disease and death and fear because some things are truly inescapable. “Severance.” “The Strain.” “The Memory Police.” But every book gave me a chance to recalibrate when so much around us was changing so quickly. I’ll always associate these 60 books with a year when all the rage became, well, all the rage. “Tender Is The Flesh.” “The Resisters.” “Survivor Song.” These books offered movement while we were still. “Migrations.” “Wanderers.” “Vagabonds.” They offered other places while we were stranded. “The Midnight Library.” “The Starless Sea.” “The Cabin at the End of the World.” They offered endings other than our own. “The Last Days of New Paris.” “This Is How You Lose The Time War.” “The Vanishing Half.” Each provided something else, as well. “The Sudden Appearance of Hope.”
2020 was the year of other people’s voices. It was a year of choosing to read more books by women, Black, Latino, Asian and Arab authors. I will remember so much about this unforgettable year. But most of all, I’ll remember these voices. They got me through, and I am grateful today — as we all are, no doubt — to turn the page on 2020 and to look ahead to the world becoming a more manageable size again.