Picks and Pans Main: Books

updated 02/28/2011 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/28/2011 AT 01:00 AM EST

A Widow's Story

by Joyce Carol Oates |

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After she lost her husband of 47 years to a hospital-acquired infection in February 2008, novelist Oates found herself wanting a T-shirt that read, "Yes my husband died. Yes I am very sad. Yes you are kind to offer condolences. Now can we change the subject?" Her dark humor had remained intact, but little else had. For months, eating, sleeping, just getting through the "vast hideous Sahara of tractless time" that was each new day seemed impossible. Friends and her students helped, as did writing in the journals that became this book, which is as much a portrait of a unique marriage as a chronicle of grief: Childless, Oates and her husband, Ontario Review editor Ray Smith, called each other "honey" instead of by name, rarely spent a night apart and avoided sharing anything tedious or upsetting. They were inseparable, yet separation came. And as this immensely moving memoir makes clear, she survived.

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

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The Radioactive Lady of this charmingly off-kilter novel is a 77-year-old woman determined to kill a doctor who wronged her more than 50 years ago. In addition to murder, dementia, cancer and pedophilia round out a full slate of dark themes, but they're rendered with such a light touch that they all become laughing matters. Stuckey-French channels her characters-including two mildly autistic teenagers-with precision and wit, weaving in wry insights about modern suburban life. The result is a smart and improbably cheerful tale about family that's actually quite sweet at its core.

Unless It Moves the Human Heart

by Roger Rosenblatt |

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"They sit at the seminar table ... pens poised, on the chance that I might say something interesting." Modest words, since Rosenblatt is an award-winning author. In this slender volume he reveals the characters and conversations that emerged during one semester of his "Writing Everything" class. There is much to love and ponder within these passionate pages.

The Death Instinct

by Jed Rubenfeld |

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In September 1920 a bomb rocked Wall Street, killing 38 in a crime that remains unsolved. Enter Jed Rubenfeld (Yale law prof and husband of Tiger Mom Amy Chua), whose new novel explores the mystery. Despite its pedestrian prose, Death Instinct ably blends fact and fiction-it's a solid choice for your next airplane read.

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