Monday, June 21, 2010
One day several years ago I received a telephone call that completely baffled me. It was someone from Michigan inquiring about sending me their cremains to be mixed with paper pulp and made into a book. I asked them where they had heard about this, and they told me that they had read about it in The Atlantic Monthly. Well, needless to say, I was flabbergasted. Some months earlier I had written a brief humorous essay in the front of one of my bookseller catalogues in which I claimed that I was starting a business called "Bibliocadavers" (you'd think that the name might be a bit of a tip-off that it wasn't serious). I would have people send me their ashes after cremation, and I would mix the ashes with pulp and make paper from it, which could then be printed upon or whatever. It was a joke! I was always making up some outrageous new product that would supposedly make me rich, like the Pope-phylactic (don't ask), or a 1-900 number which people would call to listen to me reading literary classics while I was nude. Crazy stuff. I thought that the Bibliocadavers was one of the crazier ideas - I was wrong. It turns out that a writer researching novel approaches to funerals and memorializing of dead bodies somehow got ahold of my catalogue and reported it in his Atlantic Monthly article as actual fact. From there, it was picked up on by NPR, The New York Times, Harpers, and god knows where else. Unbelievable! Nobody ever contacted me to verify the story. The internet burgeoned with information about it (just Google bibliocadavers sometime and see for yourself), and I got a number of inquiries. It was crazy. I had to patiently explain that the pulp in paper adheres when it dries through ionic bonding, and that since ashes were inert (that is, no free ions), the ashes would not bond with the paper pulp, and you would just end up with a big mess, the ashes sloughing off from the sheets of paper. Lord, lord! But the internet has a life of its own, so people continue to write about it. I can understand amateurs writing about such things without any verification, but when so-called "professional" journalists do so, it's inexplicable. I am reminded of another internet-based flurry regarding me that was quite ridiculous. I had printed, back in the early 1980s, the lyrics of the Emerson, Lake and Palmer song "Karn Evil 9." Actually, I only printed that portion of the lyrics that sort of told a story. As usual, I printed only a very small edition, and I gave all of the copies away, which is what I did in the early days of my private press activities. Well, a copy found its way into the secondary market, where a bookseller listed it for sale on the internet at a ridiculous price - $60 or $75 or some such amount - for this little pamphlet. Soon a string on a discussion group started up that took me to task for profiteering from the pirated item - oh, they slammed me for charging such an amount, failing to recognize that it wasn't me that was selling the darn thing. You'd have thought that I was a common criminal from the postings. It is certainly true that you need to be very cautious about the veracity of what you read on the internet.