In times of overwhelming stress (cough cough—2020), many of us turn to books as a way to escape a not-so-fun reality. From novels that made us homesick for our hometowns to nonfiction tomes about the benefits of therapy (topical!), here are 20 of the best books PureWow staffers read this year

RELATED: 40 Books to Gift to Every Person on Your List This Year

1. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

“This beautifully written novel took my breath away. I love how the story revolves around a childhood home, and the house itself becomes a character in the story. I also was incredibly captivated by the relationship between the two siblings—following their story over five decades was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.” -Frances S., Director, Ad Ops & Programmatic Advertising

Buy the book

2. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

“This is a must-read for people in therapy, those considering therapy, individuals who should be in therapy but are avoiding it or really anyone who’s had a complicated relationship at any point in life. Months after finishing it, I still find myself referring back to its themes or getting stuck on a detail that hit a little too close to home.” -Dena S., Fashion Director

Buy the book

3. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

“I can’t stop thinking about this totally unsettling novel about a Brooklyn family who decamps to a vacation house in Long Island, only to have the homeowners pay an unexpected visit, in the midst of an unnamed (and super-freaky!) national emergency. It turns into a really thoughtful look at class, race and even climate change—but all through the lens of a gripping thriller with achingly authentic characters.” –Jillian Quint, Editor-in-Chief

Buy the book

4. Dear Child by Romy Hausmann

“From the moment I started reading this thriller about a girl’s disappearance, I literally couldn’t put it down because I had to figure out what happened. The story completely sucked me in and there was never a dull moment. I haven’t read a book so quickly in a long time.” -Rachel G., Managing Editor, Branded Content

Buy the book

5. Circe by Madeline Miller

“I actually listened to the book on tape and the narrator was phenomenal, but it was just a fascinating story, so I imagine it would also be a great read. I knew a bit about some of the characters (all from Greek history and/or mythology) before reading, but it still felt so fresh, new and exciting. I love a good story of a woman unapologetically coming into her own power.” -Abby H., Editor

Buy the book

6. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

“After at least three people in our office recommended it, I finally found time to read it this year. To be totally honest, it was the only book I read in 2020, but considering how long, intense and good it is, I feel like I have an excuse. (Also, I’m afraid the next book I read just won’t be as good.)” -Katherine G., Food Editor

Buy the book

7. Best State Ever by Dave Barry

“After unexpectedly spending six months quarantining in my hometown, this book helped me look at the Sunshine State in a whole new light. Florida is undeniably weird—how many other kids grew up learning about Skunk Apes and doing the stingray shuffle while going on field trips to see ‘live’ mermaids and baby alligators?—but that’s what makes it awesome.” -Candace D.

Buy the book

8. The Dry by Jane Harper

“I love Australian novels because they always capture the unique environment and landscape so well and really give you a sense of what it's like to live there. This story is a great whodunit that has the right amount of twists while also wrapping up nicely and curing a bit of my homesickness at the same time!” -Sally H., Director, Audience Development

Buy the book

9. Billions of Besties: A Celebration of Fascinating and Exceptional Friendships by Peggy Panosh and Susie Arons

“I kept this gossipy (in a good way) illustrated book on my coffee table this year to flip through whenever I'd need a shot of hope—like how nothing-in-commons Fran Lebowitz and Toni Morrison were best buds, or that Bill Murray had his family's christening gown delivered to Dave Letterman's baby Harry's christening. I guess this book was what I needed this year to remember how my friends really keep me going, and that I'll be able to hang with them again soon. -Dana D., Senior Editor

Buy the book

10. Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand

“In the same vein as Andrew Morton when he secretly interviewed Princess Diana back in 1992, this Sussex biography was set to tell all about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's abrupt exit from Buckingham Palace at the beginning of the year. But instead of spilling *all* the royal tea, it reads more like a modern and very complicated fairy tale. Yes, there were villains—the UK tabloids for one—but it was more about what it took for Harry and Meghan to redefine happily ever after as a ‘normal’ life (or as close to normal as the son of Princess Diana can get).” -Rachel B., Director, Special Projects and Co-Host of 'Royally Obsessed'

Buy the book

11. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

“I loved this because it allowed me to escape into a world I knew little about—20th-century Japan. Reading about the true hardships the family went through over the years made my complaints about quarantine seem like small potatoes in comparison.” -Ali B., Social Media Strategist

Buy the book

12. Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel

“I haven’t been super motivated to read this year, so this cute rom-com was perfect. It’s about a middle-aged woman who, just as she feels like her life is finally coming together, gets broken up with. It’s charming and light and just what you need if you’re having trouble reading anything more serious. It’s also a good reminder that—especially in 2020—life can be messy, and it’s OK to lean into it rather that rebelling against it.” -Alex H., Assistant Editor

Buy the book

13. Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood by Trixie Mattel and Katya

“This year has been…a lot. One of my most loyal stress relievers (always, but specifically in 2020) has been UNHhhh, an outrageously funny web series hosted by drag icons Trixie Mattel and Katya. Lucky for me, the duo published their first New York Times best-selling book this year. It’s silly and light and there are so many pictures that if I get tired of reading, I can just stare at those.” -Sarah S., Senior Editor

Buy the book

14. The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey

“This was such a great read. I particularly loved it because it was deep, vulnerable and a well written story about Mariah’s life. In the book she discusses her childhood, family and path to super stardom.” -Latifah M., Senior Manager, Brand Strategy

Buy the book

15. Luster by Raven Leilani

“I could barely pick up a book this year, but rave reviews about this debut novel from Leilani—and the fact that it was actually available on my library app—motivated me to get reading. But it was the swift storytelling and original, bitingly funny and dark writing that kept me reading. (See: ‘I want to say I'm not that kind of girl. Portable, contorting herself over an inaccessible, possibly disinterested man, but what if I am? There are worse things—factory farming and Christian rock and the three-dimensional animation of Mr. Clean.’) The novel kicks off at 60 mph, telling the story of a young Black woman living in Bushwick corresponding with an older white man in an open marriage. The story zigs and zags as the protagonist's idiosyncrasies and experience in a racial world really begin to shape a bigger, stranger story than I expected.” -Dara K., Executive Editor

Buy the book

16. In His Own Write by John Lennon

“Funny and often nonsensical, this book is a great insight into John Lennon’s poetic style and abstract humor. Paired with his awesome drawings, his poetry is much like his song writing in its rhythm, imagery and philosophy.” -Sean M., Resident, ONE37pm

Buy the book

17. Normal People by Sally Rooney

“It's honestly been pretty hard for me to get through books this year (with the pandemic and all) but I tore through Normal People in a quick summer weekend. In the spring, I binged the series on Hulu in two days and knew I wanted to read the book as well (I kind of wish I did it the other way around because #imagination). Rooney's captivating non-traditional love story is such a page turner and you just want to know what happens next with the main characters (also picturing Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones' face while reading is obviously a treat). While the show was absolutely beautiful, it did make me feel low, but after reading the book, I had such a better understanding of the characters and their story. It's truly such a special book that I recommend to everyone.” -Aly O., Senior Audience Development Strategist

Buy the book

18. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

“My mom and I both read this and neither of us could put it down. It takes place over four decades and tells the story of twin sisters whose paths diverge as soon as they can get out of their small Louisiana town. It’s beautifully written and also super timely, since questions of identity and racial tension are at the forefront of the national conversation. I can’t wait to read Bennett’s first novel (The Mothers) now.” -Roberta F., Editor, Branded Content

Buy the book

19. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

“The concept of The Midnight Library—that somewhere in the universe between life and death there is a place to try out different versions of your life from the bookshelves—is irresistible. (Because who hasn't wondered how their life would have turned out if they had just done one or two things differently?) The concept alone was enough to sell me on this one but the writing itself is engaging yet straightforward (which comes as somewhat of a surprise considering the book tackles big philosophical questions about life as well as deeper topics like depression and suicide). I haven't been able to read as much as I would like to this year and I wanted an interesting book that I could read fairly quickly - this one delivered.” -Alexia D., Senior SEO Editor

Buy the book

20. The Guest List by Lucy Foley

“I got so into The Guest List that I stretched my bedtime to 1 a.m. a few nights in a row because I couldn't put it down. Escapism factor? 12/10.” -Kara C., Assistant Commerce Editor

Buy the book

RELATED: 6 Books to Read If You’re Obsessed with ‘The Crown’ on Netflix

PureWow may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.

From Around The Web