Dec 17, 2020 5 min read

#274: The Best Articles of 2020 ⭐️ 🎉

We did it, loyal readers. Somehow, despite this intense, grueling, unsparing year, our reading community has gotten stronger, thanks to your unwavering support. Thank you for coming back Thursday after Thursday, for reading the 200 articles I put in front of you, and for making this newsletter bigge

We did it, loyal readers. Somehow, despite this intense, grueling, unsparing year, our reading community has gotten stronger, thanks to your unwavering support. Thank you for coming back Thursday after Thursday, for reading the 200 articles I put in front of you, and for making this newsletter bigger and better.

Here are a few highlights from the year:

  • We grew by hundreds of new subscribers
  • Our esteemed VIPs doubled and our coffee supporters tripled
  • Article Club launched (and it’s pretty great) with Jia Tolentino, Paul Tough, Hafizah Geter, and other great authors
  • Now there’s a website, a store, and a game show!

Now it’s time to reveal the best four articles of the year: my favorite three, followed by your favorite. Are you ready? Can you predict them? Do we need a fancy award ceremony? (Wait, this gives me an idea, actually.) I’m really pleased with this year’s winners. The selection process was rigorous. After scanning all 200 articles, I chose 18 semifinalists, reread them all, and then by equal parts sheer will and brute force, got the list down to the best of the best. They’re outstanding, and I hope you enjoy (re)reading them.

This is the last issue of 2020. Over the next few weeks, amid all the hubbub of the holidays, I plan on reading, resting, and reflecting, and I hope you are able to do the same. Thank you again, and see you in a few weeks!

What Is Owed

What Is Owed

Nikole Hannah-Jones: “If Black lives are to truly matter in America, this nation must move beyond slogans and symbolism. Citizens don’t inherit just the glory of their nation, but its wrongs too. A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and then works to make them right. If we are to be redeemed, if we are to live up to the magnificent ideals upon which we were founded, we must do what is just. It is time for this country to pay its debt. It is time for reparations.” (39 min)

+ Back in July, VIP


reached out and asked if we could co-host a meet-up about this article. Absolutely! After the event, the group wanted to meet again — and continues to meet regularly, focusing now on helping to pass HR 40, a bill to study and develop proposals for reparations.

+ This is the second time Ms. Hannah-Jones has written one of the best articles of the year. Last year, her essay on The 1619 Project won top prize.

Lost In Summerland

Lost In Summerland

After recovering from a traumatic brain injury when he was 22 years old, Andy Swanson started hearing things at home: creaky footsteps in the hallway, stray voices in the closet. When his dad showed up, concerned, Andy’s first words were, “There’s someone in the room with us.” The chandelier in the room flickered on its own.

This article, told from the point of view of his little brother, Barrett, explores Andy’s developing identity as a psychic and a medium. Most of all, though, this is a story of two brothers, their relationship, and their trip one summer to Lily Dale, New York, where every year, 20,000 Spiritualists gather to perform readings, conduct seances, and build community.

At the retreat, Barrett notices his brother’s rising confidence and sense of calm. But he’s also aware of his own uneasiness, acknowledges his history of depression, and recounts an incident from his past, when his big brother’s powers may have saved his life. (44 min)

+ Mr. Swanson joined Article Club in May to discuss his outstanding piece. He was delightful, thoughtful, and appreciative. Part of the Article Club experience is that authors sometimes join our discussions. It’s pretty great.

Baking Bread In Lyon

Baking Bread In Lyon

I have this joke that I’m going to quit my job to open up a scone store, but otherwise, I’m no baker, nor do I have dreams of moving to France to apprentice at a boulangerie. Good thing Bill Buford did, because in this beautiful story, we get to meet Bob the baker from Lyon, learn his secrets to making delicious baguettes (answer: the flour), and realize that the meaning of life may come down to food, family, le goût et les valeurs. (33 min)

+ Few people read this extraordinary piece, published early in the pandemic, before everyone began baking bread, but its poignant sentimentality kept me thinking about it for the whole year.

On Witness And Respair

On Witness And Respair

Jesmyn Ward: “My Beloved died in January. He was a foot taller than me and had large, beautiful dark eyes and dexterous, kind hands. He fixed me breakfast and pots of loose-leaf tea every morning. He cried at both of our children’s births, silently, tears glazing his face. Before I drove our children to school in the pale dawn light, he would put both hands on the top of his head and dance in the driveway to make the kids laugh. He was funny, quick-witted, and could inspire the kind of laughter that cramped my whole torso. He traveled with me often on business trips, carried our children in the back of lecture halls, watchful and quietly proud as I spoke to audiences, as I met readers and shook hands and signed books. He indulged my penchant for Christmas movies, for meandering trips through museums, even though he would have much preferred to be in a stadium somewhere, watching football. One of my favorite places in the world was beside him, under his warm arm, the color of deep, dark river water.” (10 min)

+ Please don’t miss this: Here are the five most popular articles of the year.

Were my favorite articles

your favorite ones, too? Or would you like to stage a protest? Please vote using the thumbs below. Or hit reply and tell me your thoughts. Also, thank youfor reading this week’s issue of The Highlighter — and for reading The Highlighter all the year through. I hope you enjoyed it.

Also, let’s welcome our reading community’s two new subscribers,




. I hope that you find the newsletter a solid addition to your email inbox. Also, thank you, loyal reader


,for spreading the cheer.

If you like The Highlighter, please help it grow. I appreciate your support! Here are a few ways you can help:

On the other hand, if this newsletter does not delight you, please unsubscribe. See you in the new year — Thursday, Jan. 7, at 9:10 am, to be exact!

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