Reviews for ‘Eragon: Inheritance,’ ‘ The Art of Living,’ ‘Strange Rites,’ ‘An Introduction to the Study of Religion,’ and ‘Death, Dying and the Afterlife: Lessons from World Cultures’

Inheritance, book 4 of Eragon

I recently reviewed Eragon book 1. I’m now reading book 4 because while in the past I’ve read books 2 & 3, I never read book 4.

This book is a diamond in the rough. And I emphasize the rough. I listened to the audiobook, and it was 31 hours long (850 pages). I feel as though this could have been trimmed down to 20/25 hours long (700 pages). The narrative felt bloated, adding lots of unneeded storybeats which didn’t add much to the main plot. Probably manifesting the point most was the fact that the final battle began at the 3/4ths point in the story, and then the denouement just dragged on. Ordinarily I whine that authors don’t include enough of a denouement; in this case, this was too much.

While the book was fun, the story felt as though it dragged on and on. I feel like an editor needed to crack the whip on this one. Viewing this series as a whole, I enjoyed it overall, I think a lot of it suffered the same sort of problem (at least from what I remember of books 2 & 3 when I read them 10 years ago).

There were some other problems, but to not beat a dead horse I won’t restate them. Go read other reviews about this series written by other critics if you want the deets. This series has faults, but I remain impressed that someone so young managed to write such a long and successful series.

I will say that I felt a metric ton of nostalgia reading this. It was pleasant, like remembering all the good parts of my childhood while forgetting all the bad parts.

A note about the audiobook: I don’t recommend it. The narrator did his best, but he had a lot of trouble with the dragon’s accents. I don’t blame the audiobook narrator, but he just failed at differentiating one dragon’s voice from another. I have a feeling the narrator had to gargle saltwater after reading this book, because the grating dragon accents must have been murder on the vocal cords.

I’m putting ‘To Sleep in a Sea of Stars’ on my to-read list. Hopefully I get to it sometime in the next few years.

The Art of Living

This is another of Thich Nhat Hahn’s handbooks on mindfulness. It focused on the topics of interbeing, ‘resting in God,’ engaging in the hard work of mindfulness, aimlessness as a virtue and effortful effortlessness.

I’ve been reading a lot of these handbooks recently, and they’re starting to blend into one another. I think I’ll stop reading them for a little while so I can engage with them more deeply next time I do.

Strange Rites

This is a nonfiction book about America’s new religions, and ‘religions.’ It covers everything from the uprising of wicca and the progressive movement, to the personality cults and techno-utopian libertarian vision of Silicon Valley, to the atavistic depths of the alt-right, to the evangelical prosperity gospel and it’s sister-movements in stuff like Goop and the pseudo-religious capitalistic movements of stuff like SoulCycle, and more. It even goes into stuff like the development of queer culture and kink culture.

I found this to be utterly fascinating. It re-interprets recent American events through a religious lens, trying to explain the paradox of why America is getting less and less religious, even while it remains spiritual. This isn’t just about modern religions; it goes back to the 1800 and 1900’s in it’s efforts to contextualize the present, covering prior religious American movements like Perfectionism and New Thought and Transcendentalism and Deism.

The book’s thesis is that people have a need for four drives: meaning, ritual, social cohesion and purpose. In prior years, traditional religions provided all four of those drives. Today, someone might have their need for ritual met by bicycling at SoulCycle every day, their drives for meaning and purpose might be fighting for social justice on the weekends, and their social cohesion drive might be met by cultivating a found family.

An Intro to Study of Religion

This is a repeat of a book I read earlier this year. I decided to re-listen to it after listening to a few debates online on the subject of religion. I think I enjoyed listening to it more this time, because I payed more attention and took notes. I stand with what I said in my prior review.

Death, Dying and the Afterlife

This is a lecture series about death. It’s about how people rationalize with it, cope with grief at absent loved ones and their own imminent demise, and debate on topics like suicide, euthenasia and immortality. It discusses the theology of it in various traditions, from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. It discusses funerary rites, from burial to cremation to excarnation, and even cannibalism.

This was a very human, and humane, lecture series. It really made me think about my pre-existing assumptions about this oft-ignored topic. It talks about the subject with sympathy, and awareness about how so much of this topic can be contentious.

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