Thursday, July 23, 2009

Interview with Daphne Durham, Senior Manager of Books

You vowed at the beginning of your summer holidays to catch up on some reading, but with so many great books to choose from, where do you start? If you’re like me, you find an author you love and voraciously read everything they’ve ever written. Unfortunately, these authors can’t write fast enough to keep up with their avid readers. So the only thing to do is broaden your horizons and look elsewhere. But where do you begin?

To make things easy for us, has compiled its list of the Top Ten Best Books of the Year . . . So Far. These books are hand-picked by Books editors and represent their top ten favorite titles in five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Young Readers, Hidden Gems, and an overall Top Ten.

“At, we indulge in this mid-year ‘Best of’ list because we’re obsessive about the books we love and want to share them,” said Daphne Durham, Senior Manager of Books. “With this selection of the best new books and up-and-coming authors, our customers can get ahead of the curve and read the books that everyone will be talking about at the end of the year.”

With so many books, how on earth do they pick just ten? Ms. Durham shared this with me: “We have very spirited meetings in which we hash out what makes the list each month. Best of the Year So Far was a marathon meeting in which every editor has the opportunity to make a case for their favorites, and other editors chime in. Based on our lively discussion for the first half of the year, our meeting to decide the Best of the Year is sure to be a doozy. The beauty is that we have a diverse team with eclectic taste, so each meeting ends with editors adding to their ‘must read’ lists.”

So what are Ms. Durham’s favourite reads? She kidded, “How much time do you have? My ‘must read’ list goes on and on.” She added, “I was a huge fan of Brooklyn, Colm Toibin’s lovely, spare story about an Irish girl who moves to New York in the ’50s. Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin—even Frank McCourt, who wrote a Guest Review for us on that one. I am in love with any picture book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, especially the latest addition to her hilarious and sweet “Little” series, “Little Oink.” For the fall, Craig Ferguson’s American on Purpose really surprised me. A funny memoir that is also a story about a man in love with a country. Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City is brilliant. Just brilliant. As is Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains—a great pick for Ishmael Beah fans.”

So what are you waiting for? has done the hard part already. Now all you have to do is pop on over there and pick out one of these fantastic books. Still nervous about shopping online? Ms. Durham finishes by telling us, “We’re focused on offering our customers the best possible experience—we work hard to make the shopping experience easy and seamless for our both our long-term customers and those new to online shopping. We are excited to help all of our customers discover new books and other products through customer reviews and ratings, editorial picks, personalized recommendations, search inside the book and many other tools.”

Visit at

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: The Best Books of the Year . . . So Far listed alphabetically by author:

· Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey: This outstanding, unprecedented biography of American writer John Cheever clocks in at nearly 800 pages, but don’t let that dissuade you: Senior Books Editor Brad Thomas Parsons read it in one sitting.

· Fordlandia by Greg Grandin: Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. This absorbing narrative history reveals the little-known story of Henry Ford’s ill-fated utopia (complete with rubber roads) in the middle of a Brazilian rainforest.

· Lost City of Z by David Grann: Follow New York writer David Grann as he retraces the steps of renowned British explorer Percy Fawcett in his 1925 quest to discover the legendary kingdom of El Dorado in the heart of the Amazon. In an exclusive review for, John Grisham calls it “a riveting, exciting and thoroughly compelling tale of adventure.”

· Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann: According to Frank McCourt, “this is fiction that gets the heart thumping.” Set in mid-70s New York City, against the backdrop of Philippe Pettit’s Twin Tower tightrope crossing, it’s also a must-read for anyone who loves Don DeLillo, Jonathan Lethem, or E. L. Doctorow.

· The City and the City by China Mieville: Fans of hardboiled mysteries and literary suspense will love The City and the City, China Mieville’s ingenious breakout novel that imagines two cities coexisting on the eastern edge of Europe: one dying, one thriving, and both home to a host of mysterious secrets.

· The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: Paying homage to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic, The Secret Garden, Kate Morton’s second novel is an epic page-turner that follows an orphaned girl as she journeys from Australia to Cornwall. The Forgotten Garden is at once haunting and enchanting.

· Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad: Norman Ollestad has written a memoir that will last. Just the story itself can take your breath away: as an 11-year-old boy, Ollestad was the only survivor of a small-plane crash and made his way to safety down an icy mountain face in a blizzard, using the skills and determination he had learned from his father (who perished in the crash).

· The Gamble by Thomas Ricks: If you only read one author writing about Iraq, read Thomas Ricks. The Gamble tells the remarkable story of how a few people in and outside of the Pentagon pushed new strategies through and put a difficult plan into action to sharply reduce the chaotic violence in Iraq.

· Brooklyn by Colm Toibin: Colm Toibin’s story of an industrious young girl in 1950s Ireland who reluctantly finds herself on a boat to New York City is elegantly told and full of beautiful, bittersweet moments.

· Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead: Colson Whitehead’s pop culture tour-de-force is made for beach reading. The year is 1985, and 15-year-old Benji Cooper—a Converse-wearing, Smiths-loving, Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerd—leaves the city to spend three largely unsupervised months living with his younger brother Reggie in an enclave of Long Island’s Sag Harbor.

To see more of the book team’s picks for Fiction, Nonfiction, Young Readers, and Hidden Gems, go to

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