Burn after Reading

From the law office of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe

Burn after Reading

To My Literary Executor:

In light of the recent furor over the publication of a second Harper Lee novel, the tidal swell of snark greeting the announcement of posthumous publications by Dr. Seuss, and taking into consideration the sad mediocrities that were Islands in the Stream and The Last Tycoon, I find it prudent to protect my own literary image. 

You, dear executor, may find it presumptuous for an unpublished author to worry about such things (or to even have an executor), but I have every confidence that if I do not achieve success in my lifetime, I will be one of those phenoms, like John Kennedy Toole, who garners literary prizes from the grave. There are certain manuscripts of mine that will win me those prizes, and there are those that will not.

Please, don't do to me what was done to Albert Barnes. Read these instructions and follow them to the letter. My immortal reputation is in your hands.

  • By no means should my first multipage-length work, Aggie's Tea Party — featuring my childhood dog who can talk and pour tea, offering (along with home-baked dog biscuits) such scintillating conversation as "Sit up strayte, Raggedy Ann," and "Excuz me wile I lick my but" — be offered to Random House as part of their series, Dead Authors for Beginner Readers.
  • Do not shop around my first novel, Who Needs Parents?, written at the tender age of 13. While it was admittedly rather precocious of me to have filled up an entire three-subject notebook, the plot is largely absent and the characters are remarkably boring and one-dimensional. Some readers may be fascinated by an unexpurgated glimpse into the teenage mind, but they would likely be psychiatrists who specialize in antisocial behavior, and not lovers of literature.
  • Burn the collection of love sonnets dedicated to Chachi from “Happy Days.”
  • That typewritten manuscript of Heart of Darkness that lurks in my file cabinet under "Rough Drafts"? I regret to inform you that it was not actually written by me. I was using my favorite book to teach myself how to type 50 words per minute.
  • In the same vein, do not be tempted to submit for publication my senior thesis, "Chick Lit: The Imagery of Birds in the Poems of Wallace Stevens." Plagiarized.
  • Neither should the original attempt at that thesis, "Wallace Stevens: Just Like Me, Only His First Name Begins with a W and He Spells His Last Name with a V," ever see the light of day. Ever.
  • There's a reason why my Tolstoy fan-fiction opus, "Hostility and Harmony," is being used to prop up the couch where the corner leg is missing.
  • While 2084 was a valiant attempt to make George Orwell's classic dystopian novel more relevant by setting it in a high school, it turns out Orwell nailed it the first time.
  • Even if Hugh Van Dusen begs you on bended knee, do not allow him to publish the hand-written first (and only) draft of what was to be my bestselling advice manual, How to Survive Phenomenal Success at a Young Age.
  • Most of the events (like saving that guy from choking on a chicken bone at Popeye's; my love affair with President Obama; knowing Morse code; inventing Facebook; swimming the English Channel; etc.) described in my memoir, The Absolutely 100% True Autobiographical Life Story of Alice Stephens, never actually happened. Save yourself the lawsuits. Don't publish it.
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