Nonfiction Previews, Mar. 2013, Pt. 1: Simon Armitage, Billy Crystal, Beverly Donofrio, Linda Greenlaw

Armitage, Simon. Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey. Liveright: Norton. Mar. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780871404169. $24.95. MEMOIR
A multi-award-winning British poet (he’s even a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was named Millennium Poet, writing a 1000-line poem), Armitage is a superb storyteller in all forms. He’s written novels, an opera libretto, and scripts for television, film, and radio and has also translated classic like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Given his particular skills, it’s hardly surprising to see him working in travel-monolog format to relate a 19-day, 256-mile hike down the Pennine Way (called “the backbone of England”), during which he was attended by friends, strangers, and curious dogs and did poetry readings in exchange for a bed each night. Note that Armitage is no moony lyricist; a former probations officer, he’s an acute, dry-eyed observer of contemporary life.

Cepeda, Raquel. Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Atria: S. & S. Mar. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781451635867. $25; eISBN 9781451635881. MEMOIR
An award-winning journalist, editor, and documentary filmmaker (you’ve caught her work in People, the Village Voice, and elsewhere), Dominican American Cepeda was sufficiently shaken by her estranged father’s near-fatal heart attack to start considering her roots. Uncertain of the various ethnicities braiding their way through her background, she turned to DNA testing, then used what she discovered to reflect on what it means to be Latino in America today, particularly as anti-immigrant feeling and legislation rise.

Crystal, Billy. Untitled Memoir. Holt. Mar. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780805098204. $26. CD: Macmillan Audio. MEMOIR
Not just a look back at Crystal’s career as an actor and Academy Awards host, this work captures for every baby boomer (and other interested readers) the joys and horrors of turning 65, as Crystal does next year. With chapters like “Drugs We Did Then, Drugs We Do Now,” the book will surely be wry, but expect touching moments as Crystal reflects on his final conversation with his father and more. Evidently, Crystal is hot to promote, so watch out for him.

Donald, Mark L. & others. Battle Ready: Memoir of a SEAL Warrior Medic. St. Martin’s. Mar. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780312600754. $26. CD: Macmillan Audio. MEMOIR
Having completed BUD/S training and served in the SEALs, Lieutenant Donald was chosen for the Intra-service Physician Assistant Program and after 9/11 became operational medical support to Special Operations. His memoir offers insight into what it has been like for this young Hispanic to rise from poverty by joining the military and then find himself tasked with both killing and healing. Donald has also struggled with posttraumatic stress disorder, even as he bore the Navy Cross for his efforts against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Donofrio, Beverly. Astonished: A Story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace. Viking. Mar. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780670025756. $25.95. MEMOIR
Expect lots from this memoir by Donofrio, as she’s already made her mark in this genre: her best-selling Riding in Cars with Boys was translated into 16 languages and made into a film, while Looking for Mary was a Discover Great New Writers pick. Here she writes about living in Mexico, where she studied yoga, drank margaritas, and began hungering for religious experience. One night she awoke with a rapist in her bedroom and a knife at her throat. In a book begun at the Nada Hermitage in Colorado, where she was a lay Carmelite for four years, Donofrio recounts facing down her subsequent anger and fearfulness and learning to embrace life, even as she spent time in five monasteries hoping to touch the face of God. With a five-city tour.

Greenlaw, Linda. Lifesaving Lessons: Notes from an Accidental Mother. Viking. Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780670025176. $26.95. MEMOIR
The country’s only female swordfish-boat captain, noted as the author of three New York Times best sellers and seen in the film The Perfect Storm and the Discovery Channel series Swords, Greenlaw took on a whole new challenge with teenager Mariah. The troubled Mariah had come to Greenlaw’s island off the Maine coast to live with her uncle, a newcomer who seemed decent enough but turned out to have abused Mariah terribly. Commendably, the community got together to save her, ultimately designating Greenlaw—new to mothering—as Mariah’s guardian. A tale, then, of love, healing, and building a family; Greenlaw’s rock steadiness as a woman on the seas must surely have helped. With a six-city tour.

Newman, Leigh. Still Points North: Surviving the World’s Greatest Alaska Childhood. Dial: Random. Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781400069248. $26. MEMOIR
Deputy editor and head of book coverage at, Newman reports on a childhood in Alaska—staring down bears, deftly landing salmon, and flying 5000 miles to spend time with her mother once her parents divorced—and an adulthood spent tracking tigers in Nepal and Mafia bosses in Russia. The upshot, she finds, is almost defiant self-reliance—and an inability to open up to others, even her husband. This memoir seems designed to change all that. Sounds promising, and of course promotion will help it along.

Ruta, Domenica. With or Without You. Spiegel & Grau: Random. Mar. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780812993240. $25. CD: Random. MEMOIR
Billed dramatically as the debut of a prodigy—Ruta was, among other things, finalist for the Keene Prize of the University of Texas, Austin, where she received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers—this memoir assays Ruta’s rise from a particularly tough childhood. Not only did she grow up poor in Danvers, MA, but her mother was a drug dealer and user. Ruta knew that she was smart enough to do better and that she needed to break from her mother to do so; here she relates the story of that break while still expressing her love. An in-house favorite being compared to Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle; eyes open for this one.

Walsh, Mikey. Gypsy Boy on the Run: My Escape from a Life Among the Romany Gypsies. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250021878. $24.99. MEMOIR
Gypsy Boy, about Walsh’s growing up in a British Gypsy community that expected him to become a top bare-knuckles fighter, compelling him to break away at age 15 for something kinder and gentler, was not always perfectly written but remained compelling; as the New York Times said, it misses “any real graininess or depth. …But the thing is alive.” This sequel focuses on life post-escape, when Walsh found that he was being hunted by Gypsy toughs eager for the bounty his father had put on his head. Meanwhile, he built a new life for himself and faced up to his homosexuality. The first book was an international best seller; get wherever it had resonance.


Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.