Though we've named our Best Books of 2020, we all have our personal favorites, and not all of them are from 2020. These are the favorite books our editors read this year.

The Age of Decayed Futurity: The Best of Mark Samuels by Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels. Hippocampus, $20 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-61498-303-3

In my youth, I read a lot of horror fiction, but it’s been years since I’ve read anything new in the genre. The PW starred review of British author Mark Samuels’s latest story collection intrigued me enough to give it a try. I was blown away, particularly by “The Gentleman from Mexico,” in which an American editor travels to Mexico, where he meets a writer who seems to be H.P. Lovecraft incarnate. This weird tale is one of the cleverest of its kind I’ve ever read. —Peter Cannon, Senior Editor

Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking

Bill Buford. Knopf, $28.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-307-27101-3

Shortly before everything went to hell last year, I sat down with Bill Buford for some bouillabaisse and a nice bottle of wine, and to talk about his new book, Dirt. And so, even though I objectively love the book—it is the real-life execution of a fantasy shared by any right-thinking person: man chucks job, moves family to France, cooks and eats well—that lunch now has something of a special nostalgic glow about it, because it was, of course, before. When you could just, you know, do such things. —Jonathan Segura, Executive Editor

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

David Sedaris. Little, Brown, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-62824-2

The best book I read in 2020 has “best” in the title, which means it automatically qualifies. But it’s not just the title that made it the best. The Best of Me by David Sedaris was like an elixir to this spectacularly bad year. Released in November, the collection of essays pulled me over the finish line, reminded me not everything is awful and reaffirmed even the awful things can be funny if Sedaris writes about them. I must confess I “read” an audio version of the book, which means I listened to it. Some might claim this isn’t reading, but I maintain an audio book is the best way to read The Best of Me. There's simply nothing better than listening to Sedaris read his own work, and since I'd read many of the essays before, it was a treat hearing them told in Sedaris’s voice. That’s the thing about his essays. You never tire of reading them. Or hearing them. –Stacey Gill, Marketing Manager   

Butterfly by Ashley Antoinette

From the playlist carefully curated at the opening and the prologue, to the breath in between picking up the next book. Actually, I've pre-ordered the 4th book, the series is so electrifying. The character development of this enigmatic, doubly royal, educated, talented, and well-loved, urban, Deaf, brown girl from Flint, Michigan is raw and authentic. Is listing the whole series an option? If I have to choose, the first book which introduced me to her in this series, Butterfly, would definitely be my favorite. It was the one that cast me into the deep end of a young mother of twins grieving the loss of her first love, far removed from her home in London preparing to be a Meghan Markle. Torn between the life she left and the life she's decided is best for her children and the man who decided to love his pregnant classmate (even if meant living in the shadow of a ghost), she begins to question everything when a new entanglement arises with her love's best friend. Try not to get hooked in the drama that unfolds, I dare you. I laughed, cried, smiled, worried, sighed, cheered, and everything in between. –India Barnes, Reviews Extern

The Complete Gary Lutz by Gary Lutz

Gary Lutz. Tyrant, $19.95 trade paper (500p) ISBN 978-1-73353-591-5

Let’s face it, 2020 was a dark year. And most of my reading this year was accordingly depressing as hell—mainly Trump books, when I wasn’t reading desperate court filings from Trump attorneys seeking to block publication of said Trump books. But at the end of 2019, The Complete Gary Lutz landed on my desk, followed by a call from publisher Giancarlo DiTrapano at Tyrant Books. Because of my role here at PW, I don’t have as much time to read fiction as I’d like. So when Gian reaches out to tell me he’s super excited about something, I take note. And in the early, scary days of the Covid-19 lockdown here in New York, this book saved me. I dipped in and out throughout the darkest days of the pandemic this spring, and was consistently buoyed by the book's uncanny combination of heartbreak and humor, and Lutz’s virtuosity as a wordsmith. –Andrew Richard Albanese, Senior Writer

The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg

This short, devastating novel, first published in Italian in 1947, begins with the unnamed narrator shooting her husband between the eyes. She then recalls how their unspectacular courtship led to an unhappy marriage. Ginzburg reduces the story to its essentials: a loveless girl in a boarding house, an older suitor, dreams, disappointments, murder. But the approach isn’t direct. Ginzburg picks the right details, tries different angles, circles back. Her style is completely translucent and weirdly addictive. Not a word is out of place. Simple sentences cut through tendons and bone, and Ginzburg stacks one on the next, until something surprising and ingenious emerges. —Daniel Berchenko, Managing Editor

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

F.C. Yee. Amulet, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2548-7

I thought for sure the Monstress series by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda was going to be the best thing I read this year, but something I read in the last couple of weeks of 2020 just barely edged out the spot. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo struck a chord in me, not only for its humor, but also because the teenagers actually act and sound like teenagers. It’s not often that I find a book that I feel gives an authentic experience (whether it’s a teenage one or something else, like a southern one) but when I do, those books always end up on my shelf. Add to that a fun dive into Chinese mythology, and Genie Lo was a fantastic book. I can’t wait to read the sequel. –Drucilla Shultz, Bookroom Editor    

Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Glück

Louise Glück. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (96p) ISBN 978-0-374-15201-7

With apologies to the brilliant books published in 2020 that I read and loved—Mario Bellatin's Mrs. Murakami's Garden, Elisa Gabbert's The Unreality of Memory, Reid Mitenbuler's Wild Minds, Brandon Taylor's Real Life—it is impossible for me to finish a collection of poems by the newly-crowned Nobel laureate Louise Glück and not find it to be the best book I have read all year. The game, in other words, was lost as soon as the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced, when I decided I would read Glück's bibliography from back to front before her next book, Winter Recipes from the Collective, hits bookshelves next year. I began this daunting enterprise with her latest collection, 2014's Faithful and Virtuous Night—a discerning meditation, cool yet intimate, on the last few doubt-filled steps each of us will take on life's road to the inevitable. I'm feeling better about 2021 already. –John Maher, News and Digital Editor

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

A professor of mine in undergrad told me, “You don’t read Finnegans Wake so much as let your eyes pass over it,” so I vowed then and there I would never bother to try. But every book has a place and a time and early on in the pandemic I thought this surreal modernist masterpiece would be ideal for reading at night during these strange days –and it certainly was. I simultaneously read the book and listened to Patrick Healy’s unabridged audiobook version of it published by Dublin’s Lilliput Press. Healy reads with a breathtaking, breakneck pace, which suits the text well. In this way, I was able to fall asleep amid all the anxiety of 2020. So, I learned the Wake can serve as both a stimulant and a soporific, like a literary Red Bull and vodka. I then went down the rabbit hole of Wake fanatics (they are legion) and am in the midst of trying to memorize each of the Wake’s ten 100-letter “thunderwords” -- onomatopoeic words meant to imitate the sound of thunder. For me right now, this is a perfectly pointless pleasure. –Edward Nawotka, Bookselling and International Editor

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.R. Reid

T. R. Reid, Author . Penguin Press $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59420-234-6

I learned everything I’ve always wanted to know about health care around the world from this comparative, and very readable, account, published just after the Affordable Care Act was passed. The author, a foreign correspondent with a bum shoulder, visited doctors in developed as well as developing countries, and outlines four models of health care (Medicare for All would be only one of these) in five other advanced countries, as well as poorer ones; turns out the U.S. has features of each of these models, one reason our health care system is such a mess. In the middle of a pandemic, reading this book could help you decide what plan you want to lobby your legislators about. –Sonia Jaffe Robbins, Contributing Editor

How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger

Former St. Louis Cardinal Frank Bettger illustrates principles of selling in fascinating shoe-leather tales, from his early days in the minor leagues to St. Louis and finally back to his hometown, where Bettger learned to sell life insurance to bespoke Philadelphia executives. After he was fired from the minors, Bettger “woke up,” put some life into his game, and before long was headed to the majors. Tragedy struck, however, with Bettger’s career in baseball cut short in 1910 by an injury. After 10 months of dismal insurance sales and nearing poverty, Bettger, the epitome of 20th-century can-do spirit, took a public speaking course with Dale Carnegie, which changed his life. With renewed vigor, he went back to selling insurance and documented his progress. Originally published in 1942, the book shows how Bettger accomplished the basics—organizing his prospects, remembering names, keeping a smile on his face and enthusiasm in his gait—and relays lessons learned from his mentors and other professionals. In his 32 years of selling, Bettger says that enthusiasm is, “by far, the biggest single factor in successful selling.” The stories hum with lively dialogue that Bettger recounts with the ear of a playwright. Helpful “Pocket Reminders” summarize the points of the six main sections. No Philadelphia story would be complete without Benjamin Franklin, and Bettger doesn’t disappoint, leaving the reader with a 13-week assignment based on Franklin’s keys to successful living. Those who read and reread Think and Grow Rich and How to Win Friends and Influence People will appreciate Frank Bettger’s motivational story. –Christi Cassidy, Publicity and Licensing Director

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Martha Wells., $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-22986-1

Martha Wells’ cranky, TV-binging Murderbot, the star and narrator of four superb novellas before this novel, made for a perfect quarantine companion. Her SecUnit killing machine has favored a solitary existence ever since it hacked its way to sentience. It feels safest hunkered down in a storage bay, mainlining its favorite shows, far removed from the messy emotions and motives of people – a preference that only became more relatable as 2020 stretched on. Vividly imagined and often wryly hilarious, Network Effect stands as the strongest, richest book in the series, as the SecUnit once more must embroiled itself in human affairs, this time with a team and even a friend. Wells’ accomplished storytelling makes this a perfect entry point, but odds are once you’ve become acquainted with Murderbot you’ll want to do what it would: find a quiet spot and rush through the full series. –Alan Scherstuhl, BookLife Reviews Editor

On Ajayi Crowther Street by Elnathan John and Àlàbá Ònájìn

Elnathan John and Àlàbá Ònájìn. Cassava Republic, $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-911115-90-8

A biting satirical portrait of the family and friends of a deceitful Christian minister in contemporary Lagos, Nigeria, that offers deep social insight in a sharply humorous portrayal exposing the social hypocrisy, vicious homophobia and sexual victimization lurking in middle-class Nigerian society. –Calvin Reid, Senior News Editor

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell, Author Villard Books $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-45150-1

I returned to several old favorites in 2020, including The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God. The elevator pitch can be summed up in three words—“Jesuits in space”—but there’s nothing gimmicky here. For starters, the novels tackle the inevitability and consequences of cultural misunderstanding, what it means to find one’s purpose, and profound tests of faith. Humor, grief, and indelibly drawn characters support an imaginative first-contact story that unfolds like a slow-motion car crash in the first book; the second installment resolves some of the first book’s tension while taking the story in unexpected new directions. Russell’s books are rich, many-layered affairs that more than merit a reread, and I’m envious of everyone who’ll get to read them for the first time. —Carolyn Juris, Features Editor 

Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting by Frank Turner

Frank Turner is a London-based musician who is so prolific he's played over 2,500 concerts since 2005 (more than The Rolling Stones have played in their entire career), including 16 live stream shows since March, raising £150,000 for independent music venues (he also released three albums since March). Try This at Home is his second book, a memoir-by-way-of-songwriting-how-to where he describes the birthing process of over 30 of his songs in chronological order. Equal parts career retrospective, songwriting masterclass, and music philosophy manifesto, the book taught me new ways to play guitar chords and allowed me to spend time inside the brain of a musician who I would see 3-4 times live in a typical year. The book's title comes from a song with the same name in which Turner encourages people to "tear down the stars now and take up your guitars/And come on folks and try this at home," implying that becoming a musician starts with simply trying to be one. In a year where we had to try everything at home, this peek behind the curtain of one of my favorite artists put me in the positive and creative headspace in a way no other book could. –Seth Dellon, Director of Strategic Development

Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus

Margi Preus. Amulet, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4197-0897-8

This was a tough year for reading for me as I was so anxious about the pandemic and then about the election; for a while there, it was tough to stay focused on much beyond my family’s health and safety. As I reflected upon what I’ve most enjoyed reading, it’s both nonfiction about current events as well as YA fiction in which teen protagonists overcome incredible obstacles to save others from evil villains intent upon destruction. Village of Scoundrels is historical fiction ostensibly written for younger YA readers but will resonate with adults too, especially those of us concerned about the emergence of fascism in the Republican Party. A group of teenagers living in a small village in southeastern France during World War II resist the Nazis by helping Jews escape their clutches. While one teen is adept at forging official documents, another leads people through the woods to safety in Switzerland. Everybody contributes as best they can, while distracting a police officer sent to the village by the Vichy government. Preus does a great job of building suspense as the teens take on more and more dangerous responsibilities. While she doesn’t sugar-coat the horrors of the Holocaust, she injects sly humor into the narrative, such as naming the policeman Inspector Perdant – which means “loser” in French. What made this tale even more delicious for me was that it was based on actual historical accounts; what happened to the real-life heroes is revealed in an epilogue. –Claire Kirch, Senior Correspondent: Midwest

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

I don’t think I could’ve come across Haushofer’s novel, written in 1963, at a better time. Just as New York went into lockdown I ordered The Wall, in which an unnamed middle-aged woman and two friends go to the mountains in Austria. Her friends leave for the day and when they don’t come back, the woman goes looking. She finds that an invisible wall has blocked her into their property, and everything on the other side is dead or dying. All she’s got outside of herself are the family dog, a cat, and a pregnant cow. The novel is written as journal entries as the woman ekes out a life, and what unwinds is a beautifully bleak account of survival, love, isolation, and, really, writing. While it’s not a novel I’d recommend for levity, there’s a lot to be said for how Haushofer writes about the shock of loneliness. –Carliann Rittman, Reviews Editor

A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald by Errol Morris

Errol Morris. Penguin, $29.95 (544p) ISBN 978-1-59420-343-5

I’ll be honest: podcasts made up the bulk of my story consumption in this insanely disorienting and distracting year. The noise of real life had to be canceled before I could take in anything that wasn’t today’s news. So it’s fitting that I rediscovered this engrossing takedown of the case against Jeffrey MacDonald for the 1970 murders of his wife and two daughters (it’d been sitting on my shelf, unread, since it came out in 2012) thanks to “Morally Indefensible,” the companion podcast to a new TV series based on the book. Think that’s intricate? Wait till you dive into Morris’s reinvestigation, which foregoes narrative cohesion and certitude in favor of the thrills and frustrations of the rabbit hole. Stuffed with elegant line drawings and crime scene diagrams, undigested interview transcripts, probing questions about the nature of memory and storytelling, and Morris’s bleakly comic asides, it’s a movie detective’s “crazy wall" transformed into a work of art. It didn’t convince me that truth will win out in the end, but it gave me hope. –David Adams, Reviews Editor