Aliens, Book Organizing Tricks and Other Letters to the Editor

Earthly Quests

To the Editor:

Dennis Overbye’s review of Avi Loeb’s “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” (Feb. 7), which identifies the celestial apparition Oumuamua as evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth, is poignant and evocative of other quests (since the Tower of Babel) to communicate with the cosmos and its forces.

There is perhaps a more grounded interest in Loeb’s journey as the son of Holocaust refugees from a farm in Israel to astrophysics at Harvard and extraterrestrial yearnings. That is a book I would eagerly read.

Hillel Grossman

To the Editor:

I thoroughly enjoyed Dennis Overbye’s review of Avi Loeb’s book. I share Loeb’s sense of wonder in the mysterious object Oumuamua as well as his conviction that, as Overbye puts it, “the discovery of alien life would be the greatest discovery in the history of science.” At the same time, it’s also worth noting the grave concerns expressed by thinkers like Stephen Hawking that an encounter with aliens could prove disastrous for our civilization. They could be both hostile and extremely powerful.

Perhaps the aliens have similar reservations about us. Loeb predicts that when we finally do discover we’re not alone, “we will realize that we’ve spent more funds developing the means to destroy all life on the planet than it would have cost to preserve it.” This might be one reason that we haven’t heard from anyone yet.

Joseph Helmreich
New York

For the Love of Crime

To the Editor:

I’m devastated to read that Marilyn Stasio is retiring. All I’ve been reading during this “Year of the Pandemic” are crime novels, mysteries and thrillers, and she has been my guiding light.

Once the pandemic is over, I will continue reading these diverting and challenging “who-done-it-and-why-and-hows” in her honor.

Ivy Berney

Two Wrongs

To the Editor:

Robert Kolker’s review of “Troubled,” by Kenneth R. Rosen (Jan. 24), asks: “Did the programs cause these kids’ problems or simply fail to address problems that existed already?”

My parents sent me to a program for troubled teens. I had a 4.0 G.P.A. and no history of self-harm, disobedience, substance abuse or eating disorders. My parents were looking for a place that could help me conquer depression — I went willingly.

I spent months “earning the privilege” to wear my Star of David, to write letters to my friends, to visit my home. Often, I wasn’t allowed to interact with anyone outside my “team” — for weeks, to punish other teammates for failure to clean well.

I graduated and got high marks in university. I’m a top performer at a biotech job. I wake up screaming from nightmares that I am trapped in that school. I’ve worked for years with professionals to regain trust in others and love for myself.

Trauma does not become healing through some alchemy of “two wrongs make a right.” Not for me, not for anyone.

Tamara Cherwin
San Diego

Digital Decimal System

To the Editor:

Most people featured in By the Book haphazardly organize their books. I do the same, with over 1,000 books. I’d like to share my method of cataloging and retrieving them.

I hired a student of mine to use a cellphone camera to photograph the bookshelves (spines outward), organize the photos by room and shelf location and store the photos on my computer (iPad works as well).

Looking through them tells me where a book I want is and refreshes my memory of books that I’ve forgotten I have. My infirm body can’t retrieve; I give a friend the location and soon the book is in my lap. When I’m finished reading it, the friend puts it back where it was found.

H. Charles Romesburg
Logan, Utah

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