5 HOT BOOKS: Sex and Christianity, the Parkland School Murders, and More


1. Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen (Harper)

In his powerful, deeply reported Columbine, Cullen focused on the development of the Colorado killers before their 1999 rampage and how the survivors grappled with their grief in the ensuing decade, but he takes a different approach to the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. With the same keen empathy, Cullen focuses on the extraordinary tale of how students in the city of Parkland metabolized their rage and grief into the powerful March for Our Lives movement and its ambition: “inspiring millions of kids, and then recruiting them into a vast grassroots network.” Cullen tracks the original core of Parkland activists as they spread their movement across party lines, through sites of other school shootings, and all the way to Cape Town, South Africa, to receive the International Children’s Peace Prize.

2. Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk by Amy S. Greenberg (Knopf)

In her engrossing biography of the eleventh first lady, Greenberg makes a compelling case that the wife of President James K. Polk, who served from 1845 to 1849, helped shape the post-Civil War South and was a “role model for a generation of deeply religious female activists.” Greenberg, professor of history and women’s studies at Penn State University, finds that Sarah Childress Polk controlled news and access to her husband, coordinated the Democratic Party agenda, and directed his communications. Making extraordinary use of letters from the era, Greenberg shows that the widowed Mrs. Polk, a slave-holding businesswoman who supported the Confederacy but retained ties with the Union side, was committed to temperance and resistant to the women’s suffrage movement. She became “the first politically partisan first lady,” in a tradition followed by women such as Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton..

3. Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (W.W. Norton)

The difference between fake and real matters, especially in this era of reality TV and fake news. While it all may feel like a house of mirrors, Hindman argues in her very special memoir that while distinguishing the fake from the real can be frustrating and imperfect, it is a worthy endeavor, even if in her case, faking it is the way to discover the real. With a sharp wit and generous spirit, Hindman segues from her Appalachian childhood to a job as a violinist in a sham ensemble led by the unnamed “Composer,” who blares music from a CD while the group “performs.” “While this is a memoir about being a fake,” Hindman writes, “this is not a fake memoir.” It’s a brilliant one.

4. Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber (Convergent/Crown)

Celebration of abstinence has no part of pastor Bolz-Weber’s smart, impassioned memoir considering Christianity and sex. A former comic, a bold creative thinker, a recovering alcoholic, and a mother of two, she is an ordained Lutheran pastor who founded the House for All Sinners and Saints in her Denver living room for ‘“flawed believers.” In Shameless, she draws from her evangelical background to produce an evolving critique of Christianity and reconsideration of sexual ethics, gender issues, and the human body, with an appeal that has elevated it to the best-seller lists.

5. The Peacock Feast by Lisa Gornick (FSG/Crichton)

Just when it seemed social novels that span generations had become a thing of the past, along comes this intricate, psychologically keen work of fiction spanning a century and traveling along ridges of class distinction, from the famous Tiffany family to those who worked for them. Gornick’s enthralling novel moves from the mansions of Oyster Bay to the communes of California, from Europe to America, propelling this wonderful work of fiction through family secrets and mysteries. The sudden appearance of a great-niece brings memories of opulence and heartbreak, grandeur and hardship to 101-year-old Prudence, whose parents worked for the Tiffanys, and they form a bond through which they come to understand their lives and the world around them.