The Anxious Generation (Book Review)

The Anxious Generation (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re worried about what smartphones and social media are doing to the kids

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Anxious Generation

By Jonathan Haidt

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Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

“Do NOT let your boys get Snapchat when they’re older!”

My 18-year-old niece said this to me a couple of days after I finished reading this book.

“I’ve never had Snapchat,” I said, “What is it?”

She told me about her brief but potent relationship with the app that ended in January of this year when she deleted it for good. Her story (which included lots of teen drama and unwanted nude photos) reinforced a lot of the issues and concerns that Haidt highlights in this book.

Jonathan Haidt says that, starting around 2010-ish, we began to replace a play-based childhood with a phone-based childhood, and it’s had disastrous results for kids, causing an increase in anxiety and depression.

This book is a must-read for parents who don’t want their kids to have smartphones or social media (too early) but they’re not quite sure why they want this. They’re not sure how to say no. They’re not sure if it’s right to say no.

Jonathan Haidt lays out research and stats, and he also says things that, to me, are common sense and don’t require scientific backing for me to believe them. (Example: Kids today aren’t given the same level of independence or allowed to engage in the same type of risky play that their parents enjoyed at the same age, and this hasn’t kept them safer or made them braver.)

I’m not a big fan of getting the government involved to make laws that could have implications down the road that we can’t predict, but I do love his suggestions for how parents and educators can band together outside of the law to change the ether surrounding phone use at home and at school.

He says that we need to protect kids online WAY more than we are now, and conversely, allow them WAY more independence in the real world than we do now. He suggests practical ways we can do both.

Let’s have the guts to be the parents that this generation needs!

5
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Book Review)

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
the shackles of self-love and self-hate are too heavy to bear

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

By Timothy Keller

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Writing Craft
Moral Value

A short piece of much-needed truth in our age of selfie syndrome

I listened to this audiobook in one day, and then I turned around and listened to the last chapter again, and I’ll probably listen to it again.

My husband and I are teaching a seminar for 20-somethings next month, and the subject is “the change,” as in Christian transformation, living as a new creature, undergoing the renewal of the mind. This was beautiful food for thought in developing the seminar content.

What does it look like to live a Christ-transformed life? One HUGE indicator is that mature Christians don’t think about themselves all that much. They don’t think less of themselves. They don’t think more of themselves. They think more about God and others than they do about themselves. This, Tim Keller says, is blessed freedom. I couldn’t agree more.

We are constantly looking for signs that we are important and valuable. We live good, Christian lives in order to achieve our “righteous” merit badges. We look to others for validation—I’m reminded of the tortured Anna Karenina asking her sister-in-law, Dolly, again and again, “What do you think of me?” Keller compares this to being in a neverending courtroom, where we are on trial, and we are looking to others (or to ourselves) for a verdict, an answer to the question: Am I a good person?

Keller says we have to get out of the courtroom. How? We accept God’s verdict of us.

When we believe in Jesus as our Savior, then we are beloved children of God. That is our identity. This verdict comes before any “performance” on our part—the act of faith, the choice to believe in the gospel results in God’s final verdict on our identity and worth. We are His children, loved, and accepted. THEN the transformation happens. The verdict OUTFITS us for the performance to come, the “enduring to the end.”

We step out of the courtroom, no longer trying to prove our goodness, and we are free to stop obsessing over our self-worth and turn our precious focus upward and outward, where we find joy and freedom.

5
A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite (Book Review)

A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you like your true crime without a side of blood and guts

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite

By Adam Higginbotham

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Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

There’s a bomb in a casino. Now what?

I’m intrigued by Higginbotham’s new book on the Challenger disaster, so I thought I’d try one of his earlier and shorter true-crime books. This one describes how a dude made a bomb, put it into a casino, and attempted to extort money. Why did he do it? Did he succeed? Did the bomb, you know, go off?

This was a punchy, intriguing read. I listened to the audio narrated by the author, and it was great.

Because the crime happened back in 1980, before the Internet and cell phones and such, it was fascinating to learn how this dysfunctional man (a real piece of work) got the dynamite, rigged the bomb, placed it, and communicated with authorities…back in the Stone Age. 😂

But even MORE interesting are the family dysfunction and interpersonal dynamics at play here. Nobody does this kind of thing JUST for the money. Nor does a person do it alone, with no accomplices or stooges. The WHY behind the crime was most interesting for me.

I do not like grotesque true crime, where children are abused and people are graphically dismembered. This was a great read for someone like me who enjoys exploring the psyche and motives behind crime, but who can’t stomach graphic violence.

4.5
The Hiding Place (Book Review)

The Hiding Place (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want to hear about the power of God in action in the lives of real people in real trouble

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Hiding Place

By Corrie ten Boom

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Moral Value

Meet a couple of spinsters who will change your life forever and ever amen.

“Can I weep openly right now?” That’s the question I had to ask myself every time before pressing play on this audiobook. I shed many a tear into my family’s dinner as I was cooking it, into the pavement around my neighborhood as I walked, onto my clean laundry as I was folding it.

It’s been 10 years since my last reading of The Hiding Place, so I was due.

First and foremost, this book is a testament to the power of God, and it’s also a tribute to Corrie’s sister, Betsy, and her faith. This time around, I was struck by how many times Corrie described Betsy as an otherworldly being. “Who is this sister of mine?” When she prayed for her enemies, thanked God for fleas. I think this is what it means to be a new person in Christ, to have a new heart. It’s something that the unbelieving spirit of the world cannot comprehend.

Indeed, this book does not diminish the power of God. Every step of the way, Corrie demonstrates with evidence (tangible and intangible) how God gave them everything they needed to do everything He asked of them. Many times, they didn’t see His hand until after undergoing a test of faith, and only afterward did they realize He’d been at work.

I love everything about this story, and I think everyone should read it. It’s a WW2 memoir that is almost never a downer…ever! It’s edifying and uplifting while also not shying away from the horrors and atrocities.

I’m amazed by how readable and riveting the writing is.

5
A River in Darkness (Book Review)

A River in Darkness (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
…well, you can’t love a book about another’s real-life suffering

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

A River in Darkness

By Masaji Ishikawa

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Writing Craft
Moral Value

What if you exchanged a life of freedom for one of complete bondage?

This account was devastating to read. I can’t imagine how devastating it was to live through.

The atrocities that the North Korean government committed against its people are horrific. (And it’s still happening.) Masaji had a unique perspective because he spent his childhood in Japan, so when his family moved to North Korea when he was 13, he completely understood what they’d left behind…the “other” world that was “out there.” I can only imagine how those memories tortured him (and his family).

This book shows where communism leads…eventually. It’s bad.

I will say that this account is very sad, front to back. I wish that it ended on a happier note, but it ends on an honest one. If you’re hoping for a soaring tale of hope, this isn’t it.

4
20 Master Plots (Book Review)

20 Master Plots (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re a story nerd

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

20 Master Plots

By Ronald B. Tobias

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Inspiration
Moral Value

Why do some stories just work???

This was just plain fun to listen to on audio. I’m not a writer of novels, but I am a reader of them. I’m interested in why some stories work and others don’t. This book sets forth 20 plot skeletons that writers over the centuries have used as a basis for some of the most enduring stories of all time.
Why do they work?

Well, they have certain elements in common. Without those elements, the plot doesn’t ring true—or it just skids off the path and into muddlement, leaving the reader confused. All of the plots, too, touch certain foundational human impulses, desires, and questions.

Ben-Hur is a revenge plot

Beauty and the Beast is a transformation plot.

Othello is a wretched excess plot.

It’s neat to look at these skeleton plots and see how different authors and writers apply them, whether unknowingly or purposefully. For example, I was watching the 1982 version of Annie with my boys, and I realized that it’s an ascension plot. More than anything else, it’s about Annie (a magnetic central character around whom everything revolves) and her rise from a poor, unloved orphan to the cherished daughter of a billionaire.

I don’t pretend like this book is the ultimate and last word on plots. It’s just interesting information to add to my foundation as a literature nerd. Since this was written back in the ’90s, it comes from a strong Western, Judeo-Christian worldview, and, therefore, it makes a lot of sense when you stand it up next to the Western canon (naturally). There are other storytelling traditions outside of this worldview, but those aren’t mentioned.

Content warnings: None

4
The War on the West (Book Review)

The War on the West (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want to better understand how to defend the west from unjust, hypocritical cancellation

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The War on the West

By Douglas Murray

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Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

You can’t dismiss Douglas Murray

The man is fearless, brilliant, and eloquent. You can’t pooh-pooh him as a political talking head. Not when he travels, reads, listens, and fully engages with the matters that he’s chosen to care about.

I disagree with Murray on some essential things, religion for one. But I agree with him when it comes to the subject of this book.

Western culture, religion, and philosophy have contributed to some of the most significant advances in history, giving birth to the most peaceful, prosperous, and free nations the planet has ever seen.

Have westerners done wrong? Of course! Is the west above reproach? Of course not!

But Murray does a fantastic job of describing the gross double standard that exists right now. People are throwing the baby out with the bathwater where the west is concerned. Instead of valuing and preserving the good, some people find it much more convenient to say “It’s all bad” and seek to destroy and defame it wholesale.

I loved the interlude on gratitude. If you don’t read anything else in this book, read that. It touched my heart. Murray says that hatred of the west stems from a deep-seated ingratitude. You can’t tear down something you’re grateful for. We are so profoundly ungrateful for the freedom, peace, and prosperity that we enjoy in the west. Instead, we nitpick our blessings until we’re convinced that they’re shameful burdens.

There’s no doubt that Murray is angry. You can feel his anger boiling beneath his lyrical prose. The dude is mad. Some readers may be off-put by this, but I wasn’t. He’s alarmed and upset in the same way you’d be if you discovered someone in the act of trying to commit suicide. What are you doing to yourself?? Stop hurting yourself right this second!

If you can, listen to the audiobook. Douglas Murray has a beautiful voice.

5
Save the Cat Writes a Young Adult Novel (Book Review)

Save the Cat Writes a Young Adult Novel (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want a beat-by-beat guide to writing a YA novel (or not)

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Save the Cat! Writes a Young Adult Novel

By Jessica Brody

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Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Why read this if you’re not a novelist?

It’s a fair question.

I’m not writing fiction, but writing craft books have been catnip for me lately. WHY?

I love the ideas and frameworks that authors use to write fiction. It’s so interesting to me. I enjoy seeing how (and if) well-done books align with these (now iconic) story beats, and how they fall into one or more of the 10 thematic categories that she identifies.

I understand why some people strongly dislike “formulaic” books like these. I’m not a huge fan of big promises like “follow these steps and write a bestseller,” but I’m not wholly unconvinced that this beat sheet isn’t useful to writers, especially new writers. It sure is interesting, I’ll give it that.

Because I’m not an author, I feel serenely removed from this debate, watching from afar on my reader’s couch.

Why did I choose the YA version instead of the original? Because it’s newer, and I wanted to see if Brody revised any of her earlier advice. I don’t think there are any major differences.

4
Do More Better (Book Review)

Do More Better (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want a few good reasons WHY productivity matters in our walk with the Lord

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Do More Better

By Tim Challies

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Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

How to be a productive Christian human.

This would make the perfect high school graduation gift for a Christian kid. This is a short, practical method to getting things done that comes from a Christian perspective. It wasn’t earth-shattering for me, but I can imagine it would be super helpful for my teenage nephews who are about to embark upon Real Life after high school.

This is my first interaction with Challies, so I don’t know him in any other context besides this book, but I liked what he had to say about centering life on loving God and serving others. We’re not getting more things done just so that we can amass wealth and accomplishments and fame. We’re trying to steward our lives in a way that will honor God because we love and revere Him, and we acknowledge that He is in charge of our plans and path.

I think this book would’ve felt more “new” if I hadn’t read Mystie Winkler’s planner book. She draws on several of his frameworks, including a weekly review. I liked the planner book a lot because it’s specifically for moms, and it felt more relevant to my situation right now.

I’m not a big app person. I do much better with paper and ink, but I can apply the general principles attached to the digital tools (Todoist, Google Calendar, and Evernote) to my paper planner.
I did enjoy the section on Serve and Surprise. I like the idea of surprising people by going over and above.

4.1
How to Save the West (Book Review)

How to Save the West (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re concerned about the world coming untethered from everything solid and true

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

How to Save the West: Ancient Wisdom for 5 Modern Crises

By Spencer Klavan

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Moral Value

Is Western civilization coming to an end?

And, if so, can we save it? Classicist Spenser Klavan, host of the Young Heretics podcast and co-writer of The New Jerusalem Substack, says that the West is facing five major crises. But, it has faced them before. So, let’s look to the wisdom of the past and see what we can learn from that.

Here are the five crises:
1. The crisis of reality. In a world of AI and VR, what is real life?
2. The crisis of the body. Is it okay to manipulate or deny our fleshly shells?
3. The crisis of meaning. Why look for anything deeper than the here and now?
4. The crisis of religion. If we refuse to worship God, what do we worship instead?
5. The crisis of regimes. Is democracy done?

He draws heavily on Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, and other thinkers of the past to help bring sanity to these five areas that seem to be devolving into chaos—or so riddled by controversy and conflicting viewpoints that stability and harmony seem impossible.

I’m not one to over-listen to the news or political talking heads. Nor do I have an active Twitter/X account to provide a nonstop stream of news to my phone. I’m not an expert in politics and culture, and it’s been many moons since I’ve read the ancient and classical philosophers (let alone modern ones). Having divulged that grain of salt, Klavan makes a lot of sense to me. This is no surprise given that the author’s worldview overlaps heavily with mine.

So, even though I’m probably biased beyond measure, I found this book incredibly readable and edifying. It’s edifying because Klavan’s moral soil is rich. Even though he doesn’t lean into scripture (he explains why) it’s clear that his arguments align.

The book is organized logically according to the five crises. Klavan explains each one and then offers wisdom from the past to help point us toward truth.

It’s readable because the language is beautiful and clear. Klavan takes dense material and makes it understandable (but not exactly easy).

I highly recommend listening to the audiobook. Klavan’s got a rad bass going on.

5