Sasha Sagan lives in that uncomfortable place occupied by the families of the famous. She is icon-adjacent. This gives her unusual access and opportunities, but it also means that the public can reliably be expected to have unreasonable expectations of her. Fame is a funny thing, but I think it is important to remember why Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan became famous. In that context, a book written by their daughter about her upbringing and world view is irresistible.
Ritual is often treated as something sacred, something decided by more important people, people in the past, and we are mere custodians. Sagan walks right up to that attitude and kicks it in the teeth. You are free to choose your own rituals. Now that you’ve been paralyzed with indecision, she provides some gentle guidance. Being human can feel difficult, but books like this help distinguish what is we think is difficult from what is actually difficult.
The value of ritual in human life is easily overlooked, and forthright analyses of it are rare. Sagan shares her own life with simple honesty, providing examples and observations of how to find meaning in an indifferent universe. She recounts her personal failures, triumphs, and tragedies; some are familiar, some are unimaginable. While her perspective is singular, the questions she asks are human questions, and as a fellow human resident of the Western World, I find much of use in her treatment of the subject.
Sagan’s writing is serviceable. She is no poet, but this is a practical book. She gets a little repetitious about SCIENCE, and the refrain of “even without being religious” starts to sound a little tired. However, it feels inappropriate to seriously critique someone’s writing when they are exposing so much of their personal life so publicly. I will take a seat in the back and keep my mouth shut.
Sagan has good and important stories to tell, and ritual is a valuable part of life that often goes unexamined. Giving us permission to examine and perspective to understand ritual in our own lives is a valuable gift. I’ll file this under “instructions for being human” and say “Thank you, Ms Sagan.”