Readers’ Corner: Writers Imagine How They Will Die

cemetery1

Since the late and mellifluous George Plimpton knew just about everybody, when he came up with a random query, there were always plenty of good sources to chat up. So, when after hearing Norman Mailer talk about a supposed close call with lion in Zaire which he later determined was a good way to die, Plimpton tracked down some literary figures and asked them for how they imagined their final moments.

Here’s some of what he received in reply:

  • “When I go, everyone goes with me. You are all figments of my waking dreams and I suggest that each and every one of you shapes up and prays that I live long.” — Gore Vidal
  • “I enter a house where I have been invited. It’s dark. Two large, silhouetted figures emerge from hiding. Their voices are familiar, though I can’t place them accurately. One says, ‘It’s him.’ The other says, ‘I hope so.’ Suddenly one grabs me and pins my arms to my side while the other holds a small pillow across my face. At first, the pillow is not centered properly and it takes some effort for me to adjust it…. Just before I succumb I hear one of the figures say, ‘we did this because it was important, though not absolutely necessary.’” — Woody Allen
  • “I can’t decide if I’d rather go after the thirteenth or the fourteenth line of a sonnet; the thirteenth would give you something to do in the afterlife. By the same reasoning, while the ball is in the air, off the face of a perfectly swung five-iron, and yet has not hit the green where it is certain to fall.” — John Updike
  • “I really don’t care much how it will happen, and I don’t think I will care much more when it does.” — Joseph Heller

Reader’s Corner: Authorial Garbage

kenlopezFor writers who are looking for another reason why they never ever need to clean up after themselves, now they have something to work with besides: “I just need to polish this chapter.” The success of literary estate bloodhounds like Ken Lopez has proven the strange marketability of all kinds of marginalia (especially “interesting paper piles”) that nobody would ever have thought made sense to hang on to. Norman Mailer sold over a thousand boxes of his odds and ends in 2005 for $2.5 million.

Also, according to the Wall Street Journal, sometimes the buyers of this margnalia (university libraries, normally) can help function as a kind of executive assistant:

In 2006, for an undisclosed amount, Salman Rushdie sold [Emory University] 200 “falling apart, crappy cardboard boxes,” as he said at the collection’s opening in 2010. After Emory’s archivists put his “mess” in order, Mr. Rushdie capitalized on their tidiness to research his own 2012 memoir.

All authors need now to ensure that their various scribblings, laundry lists, and whatnot will fetch a pretty price in the future is to become wildly beloved by critics and preferably sell a million or so copies of their work in order to achieve a profitable literary immortality. Cake.