Favorite Things Written and Read in 2020

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Okay, since no one else is going to say it, I guess it falls to me: 2020 has been a rough year. Unprecedentedly rough. Crisis rough. Surreally rough. Rough like no other. Roughest. year. ever. Roughness is so 2020. Because 2020, amiright?

Phew. Don’t we all feel better now that someone has FINALLY just said it?

It’s heady to be in journalism right now, because we are writing the first draft of history, which is intimidating and motivating and cool. Not just the pandemic but allllll the history going down right now. Trump. Black Lives Matter. Kamala Harris. Some of my colleagues, I believe, were built for this kind of gravity.

I go on a lot of walks.

In May I started working more or less full time for The 74 Million, reporting on the pandemic in San Antonio schools. I’m on a team! Just like I wanted! It’s amazing! It is a position created by a pandemic that cost a lot of people their job and I don’t know how to feel about that so I’m just going to try to do really good work and not think about how the pandemic ending would mean my gig ending!

Your lives are more important to me! I swear!

The gig has some very specific vocabulary, that I’m sure we’re all equally tired of: remote learning, in-person learning, COVID-19 protocols, learning loss, enrollment decline. I’ll never forget the moment when contact tracing went from getting flagged as jargon to being common vernacular, along with asymptomatic and asynchronous. I’m torn between never wanting to type those words again and being gleeful at getting away with it. Like when your family visits Hoover Dam so you say the word “dam” as much as you can before it’s outlawed again.

However you feel, fools can’t keep their masks on, so you’ve doomed yourself to another year of it, kids. Time for some asynchronous protocols for asymptomatic learning loss among in-person learners amid the pandemic.

Even though most of us had to write those words more than we wanted, some folks made some very delicious work out of it. Or just did delicious work about other stuff still going on in the world that still needs lots of attention. Cue the lists!

Favorite journalism by others:

This Texas Monthly oral history blew my mind and made me proud. It also explained why, as eerie as things were in those first pandemic weeks, in San Antonio they were not as dystopian and weird as in other places, grocery-wise.

Alec MacGillis’s Dollar Store investigation had me on the edge of my park bench for 20 minutes, then had me bothered for months. Definitely ruined my trip to the Family Dollar in rural West Texas when I realized that I had no other option and then realized that no one in that town had another option. MacGillis also wrote one of the most painful looks inside remote learning debacle.

Maria Godoy on the lingering effects of housing discrimination in Dallas. It emphasized something we saw graphically illustrated in the Somos Neighbors project in San Antonio earlier this year, which I was lucky enough to work on.

Alia Wong wrote about tools to help emerging multilingual learners during COVID-19 in Tulsa, a city which became dear to my heart this year while I was reporting on their refugee welcome efforts.

Favorite Stories I Worked On:

The renaming of Pacific Bay Christian School was something I wanted to write about for over a year before I got to do it. This story was so, so cathartic, for many reasons. I loved working with Sarah Garland at the Hechinger Report as point editor and with The Undefeated. Both were incredibly generous.

The reporting for The Gardeners of Eden (its print title) for Christianity Today was dreamy. I was in orchards and community organizing meetings, driving up and down the California coastline meeting humble, committed people who deeply care about the communities they serve. I want this story to make people think about their food differently, and the complex, at time exploitative and strained system that delivers it. It did that for me. We joined a farm delivery co-op.

Reporting on the pandemic in San Antonio schools (while living it) has been a trip. I’m particularly proudest of this piece, which involved public information requests, data analysis, and interviews with bold people who got real with me. All the best things.

Favorite Books I Read this Year, regardless of the year they were written:

Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age was amazing, and sent me into the tailspin identity crisis of ohmygodI’mthevillain. Given that it was sent to me as part of the Ally Box subscription from Fulton Street Books…I think that means it hit the mark.

Mothers of Massive Resistance, by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae provides more explanatory ammo for debates with doubters of systemic racism than any one person could ever remember without notes. So take notes. Because if you can’t gain ground in those conversations, you just embolden the doubters.

I began to have some concerns about my brain this year, so I read NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. It was very reassuring, after it stopped being terrifying, and it was entirely engrossing.

My husband gave me Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems for our 10th Anniversary. We were planning to travel to Zambia for the occasion, but a comic book about life with mental illness written by a winsome lady who looks nothing like the monster she depicts herself to be (I won’t hold that against her) was a more than adequate consolation prize.

Calypso, by David Sedaris, gutted me. I like to think I’m willing to bleed on the page, or smile with my makeup off, but when I think about writing the stories of my life that are a distant parallel to the stories he’s telling (we ALL have them)…I feel palpable fear. The fact that we are warmed by these in any way, and drawn to him even, is a testament to how good of a storyteller he really is. Which cued a different kind of panic for me than the panic Kiley Reid called up.

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. Because I needed something to read on a rainy day, grabbed In the Woods from a shelf of my husband’s paperbacks, and then read the rest of the series, because once I’m really in, I am all in, without the ability to moderate. I then watched the miniseries, and am now, apparently against my will, doing the same thing with The Pillars of the Earth.

Looking back on the list of my favorite books of the year, I see a theme. The theme is “my own crap amid all the crappiness.” I think I was reading books to make myself feel less alone, and more equipped. I hope that some of my writing did that for you.

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