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Which writers have the best tombstone inscriptions?

Katie Yee

June 24, 2021, 9:55am

You know writers. They obsess over comma placement. They can re-write a sentence a thousand times without being satisfied. And they always have to have the final word. For people whose lives revolved so much around language, what did they (or their loved ones) choose for their eternal resting place? (For the record, I think I’d like mine to read: “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!”) Here are some of the best ones out there.

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Margaret Wise Brown tombstone

Margaret Wise Brown

The beloved author of Goodnight Moon absolutely did not want her children’s book titles anywhere near her burial ground. She had had enough of them in life! Instead, she specifically requested that her tombstone read: “Writer of songs and nonsense.”

octavia butler tombstone

Octavia Butler

In Octavia Butler’s novels, she invents something called the Earthseed religion. The crux of said religion, from Parable of the Sower, is a perfect farewell: “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.”

shakespeare tombstone

William Shakespeare

Apparently relic hunting was big in Shakespeare’s day. He was afraid his grave would be disturbed, given his rock star status, so he allegedly penned this poem, which is also a curse! It says: “Good friend for Jesus sake forbear, / To dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man that spares these stones. And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

Robert Frost tombstone

Robert Frost

In the Frost poem “The Lesson for Today,” he explicitly requested this be his epitaph: “And were an epitaph to be my story / I’d have a short one ready for my own. / I would have written of me on my stone: / I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

Sylvia Plath tombstone

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s cheating husband, the poet Ted Hughes, chose this one. It reads: “Even amidst fierce flames / the Golden Lotus can be planted.” These lines are, curiously enough, from a classic of Chinese literature, Wu Cheng’en’s Monkey: Journey to the West. The full quote is actually, “Even in the midst of fierce flames the Golden Lotus may be planted. The Five Elements compounded and transposed, and put to new use.”

Muriel Spark tombstone

Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (and my personal favorites The Driver’s Seat and The Girls of Slender Means), was celebrated for her dry wit and wisdom. She knew how to hold the pen like a knife! Buried in Italy, the quote here translates to “No leaf repeats itself. Let’s just repeat the word.”

Billy Wilder tombstone

Billy Wilder

Classic Billy Wilder—of Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard fame—still making us chuckle in the end.

Jonathan Swift tombstone

Jonathan Swift

Satirists write the best epitaphs… and are maybe the most sensitive writers?  Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, left instructions for his words to be gilded and placed above his grave. Translated, it reads: “Here is laid the body of Jonathan Swift… where savage indignation can no longer tear his heart.” Aw.

Jorge Luis Borges tombstone

Jorge Luis Borges

Under this very cool grave illustration that is befitting only of Jorge Luis Borges, there is a phrase from the Old English poem Battle of Maldon. It translates to: “Do not fear at all.”

Dorothy Parker tombstone

Dorothy Parker

Of course Dorothy Parker—hilarious writer, critic, and hater of Winnie-the-Pooh— wanted her epitaph to say “Excuse my dust.” Of course!

Trump is spiraling out about Jared Kushner’s book deal.

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June 23, 2021, 1:49pm

The only good thing about Jared Kushner’s book deal: it’s making Trump angry. A source told CNN that Trump is envious of Kushner’s deal with Harper Collins’s conservative imprint Broadside Books. According to a Kushner associate, the book deal is seven figures. Add this to Mike Pence’s lucrative book deal with Simon & Schuster and you have a full-blown Trump jealousy spiral.

According to Broadside, Kushner’s book “will be the definitive, thorough recounting of the administration—and the truth about what happened behind closed doors.” This language is likely galling to Trump, who has been shut out by mainstream publishers simply because a book written by him would be too hard to fact-check. Two Trump associates told CNN that Trump fears Kushner will use the book to take credit for some of Trump’s achievements: “It is not a secret President Trump doesn’t like when he thinks other people are getting attention for something he feels he has facilitated. There’s a sweet spot between saying nothing about work you did and saying too much that everyone has to find—or else he gets triggered.”

According to CNN’s sources, Trump’s book deal envy has prompted constant complaining about Kushner, including him questioning whether Kushner “accomplish[ed] peace in the Middle East after all.” Well, we know the answer to that one.

[h/t CNN]

Amazon is destroying thousands of unsold books.

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June 23, 2021, 1:00pm

ITV News has reported that Amazon is destroying millions of unsold items each year—books, TVs, laptops, drones, headphones, computers, thousands of packaged COVID face masks are all among the waste. Undercover footage of Amazon’s Dunfermline warehouse in the UK from ITV News shows these items sorted into boxes marked “Destroy,” inn order to minimize storage costs.

Said an anonymous ex-employee to ITV News, “From a Friday to a Friday our target was to generally destroy 130,000 items a week. I used to gasp. There’s no rhyme or reason to what gets destroyed . . . Overall, fifty percent of all items are unopened and still in their shrink wrap. The other half are returns and in good condition. Staff have just become numb to what they are being asked to do.” The employee said that in some weeks, as many as 200,000 items could be marked “destroy,” while only a fraction of that number would be marked “donate.” (One week in April showed over 124,000 items marked “destroy,” while just 28,000 were marked “donate.”)

Another employee came forward to corroborate the first employee’s account and confirmed the Dunfermline warehouse wasn’t the only warehouse producing waste at this scale: “We got rid of brand-new books, [brand-new iPhones, PlayStations.] In every single facility it happens, trust me, it does. I worked in one specific facility, but I knew other people who worked in others and they said exactly the same thing.”

Amazon has denied sending any products to landfills in the UK in statements to ITV and The Verge and claims the landfill ITV identified is a recycling site (despite the “destroy” labels). Said Amazon in the statement, “We are working toward a goal of zero product disposal and our priority is to resell, donate to charitable organizations or recycle any unsold products.” Amazon told The Verge less than one percent of its products are incinerated for energy generation.

Looking at the ITV News footage, it’s hard not to think of all who could benefit from those products marked “destroy.” Those books could bring joy to schools, hospitals, prisons; those laptops could help students in need who required laptops for remote learning this past year. Not to mention the environmental unsustainability. As Philip Dunne, chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, told ITV News: “[This] is a truly astonishing degree of waste of resources. And if true, it is a scandal that Amazon has got to address.”

[h/t ITV News]

Did you know that Daryl Hannah created best literary board game of all time?

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June 23, 2021, 12:20pm

There’s not enough observational comedy based on the differences between poets and fiction writers, in my opinion. (True, the market for this kind of humor might be vanishingly small and generally obnoxious, but that’s never stopped us [poets] before!) Nowhere are these differences more obvious than a game night at an MFA program: fiction writers played games to win, and poet played them to get compliments on their creativity.

And in my experience, only one game brought these two factions together: Liebrary.

I don’t remember who ushered library into my life, but the person who brought it into the wider world was Daryl Hannah. Daryl Hannah of Splash and Kill Bill fame, who evidently has a sideline as a board game designer. (The internet tells me her co-designer, Hilary Shepard, is also an actor, known for her role as Divatox in Power Rangers Turbo.)

Remember 2009?

The game is similar to Dictionary, or its branded counterpart, Balderdash, in that it involves trying to trick your friends with words. It comes with a deck of cards, each of which lists the title and plot summary of a book on one side, and the book’s first line on the other. The players must try to craft the book’s first line without knowing the real one—the object of the game being to convince other players that yours is the true opener.

Of course, if you’re playing like a poet, you’ll just vote for the line you think is the most creatively interesting. (Did anyone really think the first line of Power Tools for Women was “Shrill? More like Drill!” No. But I still won that round.)

Having played both ways, I can honestly say that they’re both thoroughly delightful. (There’s also a board if you really want to be a stickler, but even the fiction writers I knew didn’t bother with that.) If you’re looking for a way to thwart post-pandemic social awkwardness—or you just want a healthy(ish) outlet for your literary competitiveness, I cannot recommend this game highly enough. And though its published seems to have gone bust, there’s always eBay. Or you could write to Daryl Hannah. She probably has a whole stockpile in her basement.

New works from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s archives will finally be published, starting next year.

Dan Sheehan

June 23, 2021, 11:21am

The publishing giant HarperCollins has reached an agreement with the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to acquire world publishing rights to the late Civil Rights leader’s entire archives—a collection which contains some of the “most historically important and vital literature in American history.”

As reported by Publishers Weekly earlier today, the mega-deal gives HarperCollins world rights “to publish new books from the archives across all formats, including children’s books, e-books, audiobooks, journals, and graphic novels in all languages.”

Given the significance of the books in question, it seems strange that a deal like this one wasn’t made sooner, but this is welcome news nonetheless.

More welcome still is HC’s assertion that it will hire a dedicated archivist to oversee the project, and “engage prominent Black scholars, actors, artists, performers, and social activists to help bring Dr. King’s works to life.”

Way back in 1958, HC’s predecessor company Harper & Brothers published Dr. King’s very first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, which detailed the 1955–56 Montgomery bus boycott and described the conditions of African Americans living in Alabama during the era.

The first MLK titles to be published by HC are scheduled to drop in January 2022, to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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