My Top 10 Reads of 2020

And what they say about 2021

Photo: Javier Allegue Barros via Unsplash

Maybe you’ve had enough of annual Top Ten lists. Not me. I not only love reading them, I love making them. There’s no personal algorithm that helps me figure out what makes it on the list. But reflecting on why an article stuck with me is a clarifying exercise. First, it makes clear what my scattered mind is truly curious about (as you’ll see: business, tech, women, habits, meaning, work). Second, lining up the links in ascending order feels like I’m tidying the basement of my brain. When the new year begins, I can start stuffing new articles into it (and my reading app of choice, Pocket) as soon as possible.

And so, I humbly offer you my Top Ten Reads of 2020. Some are chosen for their beautifully crafted sentences, but the majority capture a moment for me, or feel prognostic of what we will be reading more about in the year to come. I hope you enjoy them, too.

10. Song Exploder and the inexhaustible hustle of Hrishikesh Hirway, by Reggie Ugwu (New York Times)
This profile of my Radiotopia colleague sums up the ambivalence many creative people wrestle with when they’re torn between being good at something they like that pays well… and pursuing the riskier, self-indulgent career they yearn for.

9. Ad tech could be the next internet bubble, by Gilad Edelman (WIRED)
Do online ads even work? Is the industry that props up social media empires built on bullshit? This story is quietly brewing.

8. Women’s career trajectories can be a model for the aging workforce, by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox (Harvard Business Review)
Many women reach their career peak in the second half of their life, not the first. Rethinking our professional arcs may help us feel less rushed to achieve all the damn time.

7. Why do food delivery companies lose money?, by Josh Barro (New York Magazine)
The recent IPO of DoorDash puts this piece in even sadder perspective. Read before you order your next meal online.

6. Under pressure: why athletes choke, by A. Mark Williams and Tim Wigmore (The Guardian)
As someone with stage fright, I think this analysis applies not just to the pitch or stage, but to any high-pressure work situation.

5. Ha ha! Ha ha!, by Lauren Oyler (London Review of Books)
I had to read this article three times to fully process Oyler’s critique of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror and her thoughts on journalism that relies on “overreacting for attention.”

4. How suffering farmers may determine Trump’s fate, by Dan Kaufman (New Yorker)
The farmers didn’t win it for Trump, but this journey into Wisconsin farmland made me feel so much empathy for people who just want to survive the 21st century.

3. Why we are all losing sleep, by Dan Hancox (New Statesman)
A reminder of what running on empty feels like, and why commoditizing sleep is a sad symptom of capitalism.

2. Out there: On not finishing, by Devin Kelly (Longreads)
I didn’t know Devin’s writing before this year. I’m so glad I do now, and really appreciate this slow and steady journey into how achievement motivates some of us to our detriment.

1. My body is a Confederate monument, by Caroline Randall Williams (New York Times)
I bet you read this one. Read it again. A poetic explanation of legacy in a way I had not considered. Heartbreaking.

I‘m writing here every week. Please follow me and tell me things. To hang out even more, find me on Twitter, sign up for my newsletter, and listen to NPR’s TED Radio Hour.

Journalist, mom, Swiss-Persian New Yorker. Host of @NPR’s @TEDRadioHour + @ZigZagPod. Author of Bored+Brilliant. Media Entrepreneur-ish. ManoushZ.com/newsletter

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