by Shawn Levy |

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Paul Newman was everything you want a star to be: a consummate actor, a man's man with an enviable home life, a philanthropist. Oh, and did we mention the eyes? In this biography, film critic Levy (who never spoke to his subject) gives a flowery but very readable accounting of Newman's life. He reveals the chinks (an affair with a journalist during Butch Cassidy, his status as a "functioning alcoholic") while still deeply appreciating the man. Once dismissed as a pretty boy, Newman became respected as much for his acting as his star power, giving some of his best performances (Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, Nobody's Fool) at an age when most legends were on the celeb golf circuit. Through it all he kept a perspective on fame that's almost absent today. Here was a man both great and good, yet with a humility that led sportswriter Jim Murray to observe, "He's probably the only guy in America who doesn't want to be Paul Newman."

by Colson Whitehead |

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Picture Beethoven playing "Chopsticks." Whitehead, known for serious fiction like John Henry Days, goes with the memory flow in a breezy novel about well-heeled black teens on Long Island in the '80s. As prep student Benji frets about handshake trends and gets a BB in his eye socket, the book feels pleasant but meandering. Maybe you had to be there.

'He was ridiculously handsome and trim, with a face that belonged on an ancient coin'


THE SWEET BY AND BY by Todd Johnson Feisty Bernice and Margaret may be in a nursing home, but don't count them out. Steel Magnolias fans will love this one.

CLOSING TIME by Joe Queenan Books helped Queenan survive his hard-luck Philadelphia childhood; his moving memoir now enriches the canon.

LOVE STORIES IN THIS TOWN by Amanda Eyre Ward Tales of modern women seeking comfort and connection, from the talented author of Forgive Me.

>• Philip Alcabes, a professor of public health and the author of Dread, offers insights into how fear and fantasy fuel outbreaks like this year's swine flu:

"OVERIMAGINING" RUNS WILD Swine flu's obviously real, but people project what will happen a week from now, a month from now.

COMPARISONS CAUSE PANIC This isn't 1918, when flu killed millions. We have better science. Also, flu has taken many forms since then; why assume a reprise of [the worst]?

PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THE STATS 99.5 percent of the U.S. population survived the 1918 flu.

FEAR BREEDS ILLOGIC In the SARS epidemic, patronage of Chinese restaurants fell. It's not in lo mein! Bottom line: There's no risk-free life, but public health systems work. Trust them.