Recently by Nathan Schneider:

What concerns me about the literary apocalypse that everybody now expects — the at least partial elimination of paper books in favor of digital alternatives — is not chiefly the books themselves, but the bookshelf. My fear is for the eclectic, personal collections that we bookish people assemble over the course of our lives, as well as for their grander, public step-siblings. I fear for our memory theaters.

 There was a time when I thought I could do without much of one. As a student in college and graduate school, moving from room to room virtually every year, the desire to keep my possessions down to what could be stuffed into a Toyota Corolla overwhelmed the reptilian instinct to collect. That in itself became a pleasurable asceticism, and it suited my budget. As so often accompanies renunciation, I came to love the forbidden… More…

Satellite TV in Jordan, I discovered on my recent trip there, is a chaotic pleasure. When my American friends talk about watching it, taxiing home after a long day, there’s a little dread mixed with the hope of going into the kind of coma that only television can put one. The standard satellite setup, dauntingly, has more than 500 channels shooting out their signals in languages from all over the world. Finding something conventionally decent to watch is next to impossible for all but the practiced viewer. When you find your way around, you can preset your favorite stations and forget all the rest. But for those of us doomed to the full variety, the Jordanian boob tube becomes an obligatory tour of the human universe.

When all you want is Friends (or even its Arabic equivalent), prepare to weed through Italian soaps, Iranian talk shows, the Pentagon channel, Egyptian… More…

It wasn’t until the end of our few days’ drive together through the extraterrestrial landscape of northern Colorado that this distant cousin of mine started talking about aliens. He was a bit older than my parents, and a Vietnam vet. Along the way he had shown me the remains of an old family farm, the high Rocky Mountain passes, and the endless shrub brush ranches on the other side. Then, back in the library of his home outside Denver, he showed me Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet.

That summer, waiting for college classes to start again, I read Sitchin for myself and almost converted. His beliefs could have consumed me entirely if the books weren’t dressed in such pulp sci-fi packaging. A few footnotes, a respectable cover, or a university press publishers, and I might have been done in for good.

The idea goes like this: If you read the… More…