Nonfiction Previews, Apr. 2013, Pt. 2: Thirteen Key Memoirs, from “Astor Orphan” Aldrich to Poet Wiman

Aldrich, Alexandra. The Astor Orphan: A Memoir. Ecco: HarperCollins. Apr. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780062207937. $24.99; eISBN 9780062207968. lrg prnt. MEMOIR
The name Astor conjures up the glorious Gilded Age, but by the time Aldrich came along, the Astors were a pretty tarnished bunch. Aldrich lived with her family in the servants’ quarters of Rokeby, the fading Astor family mansion, ignored by her parents, lorded over by wealthier cousins, and rigorously disciplined about her violin studies simply to keep her life in order. Aldrich doesn’t stick with her own travails but, more interestingly, reaches back generations to show where the family’s downturn really began. For history and memoir readers, who should forgo any schadenfreude.

Ashford, Brenda. A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story. Doubleday. Apr. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780385536417. $25.95. MEMOIR
Britain’s oldest living nanny tells all. After graduating from the Norland Institute of London, the premier training ground for British nannies, Ashford began her career while World War II raged. Two disappointing romances later, she decided that she would never marry but instead dedicate herself to raising other people’s children. In all, she cared for more than 100 children in 62 years, and her story offers telling anecdotes while giving us the sweep of history. Goodreads giveaways plus social media promotion; you can thank someone who helped raise you by sending along the book.

Burnett, Carol. Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story. S. & S. Apr. 2013. 160p. ISBN 9781476706412. $24. MEMOIR
Drawing on her diaries and correspondence, multi-award-winning actress Burnett reflects on the up-and-down life of daughter Carrie, who succumbed to addiction as a troubled adolescent, then pulled herself through—only to die of cancer at age 38. Not just a celebration of Carrie’s life and their bond but insight for parents facing the loss of a child.

Chu, Jeff. Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. Harper: HarperCollins. Apr. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780062049735. $26.99; eISBN 9780062049759. MEMOIR
A Time magazine writer and editor of the business/tech/design publication Fast Company, Chu has written extensively about religion today, interviewing everyone from Joel Osteen to presiding Episcopal bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. So he brings considerable knowledge to his discussion of the current wrestling match between homosexuality and Christianity, as he asks how some followers of Christ can roundly reject gays while others embrace them. The story is also personal, as Chu folds in his own experience as a gay man whose mother sobbed for months when he finally came out. The very title suggests a cri de coeur, but the book is said to be funny, too. Not a huge first printing but important for thoughtful readers.

Cyrus, Billy Ray. Hillbilly Heart. New Harvest: Houghton. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780547992655. $25. MEMOIR
Here’s a reminder that Cyrus is not just Miley’s dad but a renowned country singer/songwriter who broke out with “Achy Breaky Heart” and sold over 20 million copies of the album Some Gave All‚ the best-selling debut album to date of a solo male artist. Cyrus writes a story of music, faith, and his travails once he and his family hit Hollywood; originally scheduled for October 2012.

Elias, Rayya. Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side. Viking. Apr. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780670785162. $36. MEMOIR
In 1967, Syrian-born Elias fled to America with her family, where she found herself trapped between tradition and taunting classmates. She fled again, this time to New York, where she became a musician (the punk movement was thriving on New York’s Lower East Side), supported herself by cutting hair, and eventually collapsed into addiction. Here’s a tale of plummeting down and then rising, triumphant; the writing is said to be edgy-keen yet hopeful.

Gooden, Dwight. Doc: A Memoir. New Harvest: Houghton. Apr. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780544027022. $27. MEMOIR
Major League baseball pitcher Gooden had some remarkable successes, especially early on; he was a National League Rookie of the Year; claimed baseball’s Triple Crown in 1985, a year after his debut; was a four-time All-Star; and eventually won the World Series ring three times. But drugs, injuries, and DWI arrests tilted his career downward. Now he’s aiming to face up to it all.

Harris, Jake & Josh Harris with Steve Springer. Captain Phil Harris: The Legendary Crab Fisherman, Our Hero, Our Dad. S. & S. Apr. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781451666045. $25; eISBN 9781451666083. MEMOIR
The star of the Discovery Channel’s popular Deadliest Catch, a fisherman for 32 years and captain of the Cornelia Marie, Phil Harris died in February 2010. Here he is remembered by his sons as a hardworking, hard-living man both wild and big-hearted. Originally scheduled for July 2012.

Reece, Gabrielle with Karen Karbo. My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper: A Guide to the Less Than Perfect Life. Scribner. Apr. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9781451692662. $25. MEMOIR
Reece has been a women’s beach volleyball star, television host, fashion model, fitness expert, and author of Big Girl in the Middle, but as she reconsiders what she’s been through (including a marriage that went south) she’s reconciled to a life that hasn’t been perfect. Reassuring thought.

Reynolds, Debbie & Dorian Hannaway. Unsinkable. Morrow. Apr. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062213655. $28.99; eISBN 9780062213679. lrg. prnt. MEMOIR
The renowned actress ended her 1988 autobiography, Debbie: My Life, in the peppy, sunlit manner we’ve come to associate with her. But looking back, she takes a darker view of things, recalling not just the glory days and bonds with friends and family but mistakes made and bad times with men and money. As she herself says, “To paraphrase Bette Davis: Fasten your seatbelts, I’ve had a bumpy ride.” Hey, people like to read about bumps. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

Sizemore, Tom with Anna David. By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There: A Memoir. Atria: S. &. S. Apr. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781451681673. $26; eISBN 9781451681697. MEMOIR
A sobering title, and actor/producer Sizemore (e.g., Born on the Fourth of July, Saving Private Ryan) has a sobering story to tell. Raised in the Detroit ghetto, he caught Hollywood’s gold ring but became addicted to drugs, eventually sliding from a Hollywood mansion to charges of domestic abuse, a solitary confinement cell, and bare survival in an isolated cabin. He’s acting again, while counseling teens on drug abuse. Billed as a mirror not just of one actor but of many who have been damaged by drugs.

Volk, Patricia. Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780307962102. $25.95; eISBN 9780307962119. MEMOIR
The best-selling author of the memoir Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family (not to mention several well-received works of fiction), Volk returns with another lively reflection that places her squarely between her mother, a renowned beauty and hostess at the family’s garment-district restaurant, and the famed Italian fashion designer. Volk read Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life, at a young age and was much influenced by it and by Schiaparelli’s generally audacious glee. A coming-of-age tale not just for fashionistas; it’s all in the writing.

Wiman, Christian. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Farrar. Apr. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780374216788. $24. MEMOIR
An award-winning poet who’s also the editor of Poetry magazine, Wiman has always believed powerfully in both faith and verse. But could they help him cope with pain and impending death? That’s the question he faced when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Written after he underwent a bone-marrow transplant and expected to die, this book should have the brave, terse lyricism of Wiman’s best poetry.

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.