Bury Me at the Bottom of the Ocean, and Other News


On the Shelf

This could be you. (Not the scuba diver.)

  • Meanwhile, Dylan’s primary audience, baby boomers, have invented a fancy new eco-friendly way to face death: in a concrete casket at the bottom of the ocean. Ask your mortician today about “reef balls,” which are like a mafioso’s cement boots except, you know, consensual: “The idea is part of a niche movement of eco-burials intended to support artificial reefs, which proponents say could help restore sea life and coral … George Frankel, sixty-six, a founder of Eternal Reefs, said the concrete reefs attract fish and other sea life and remain stationary through hurricane-force weather … Turning a human into a reef ball is a process that often stretches over several days, he said. First, what Mr. Frankel’s company calls a ‘pearl’ is cast out of concrete and the cremated remains of the deceased. That pearl is attached to a larger prefabricated reef ball. Family members can add handprints, personal messages and even a memorial plaque on top of the reef ball when a fresh layer of concrete is added. Once those personal touches are embedded into the dried concrete, the ball is lowered into the ocean, with the family watching from a separate vessel nearby.” 

  • Many have remarked on the preponderance of new books with girl in their titles, but Emily St. John Mandel has actually crunched the numbers. With hard data at our disposal, the truth about the glut of girl books gets even grimmer: it seems the girls in these books are far likelier to die when their authors are men. “What does happen to the girls in these stories? With the help of a research assistant, I sorted the titles based on the status of the girl in the title, or insofar as we could figure out the status of the girl based on the book’s Goodreads description … It wouldn’t be fair to extrapolate from this that women and girls are more likely to be dead or missing across all books written by men; only that they’re more likely to be dead or missing in books by men with girl in the title. I can’t think of any mitigating factor that fully explains this.”
  • Today in forgotten words: Judith Lund, a whaling historian, made a major discovery when she pieced together the meaning of the word woggin from sailors’ diaries: a woggin is a penguin. But why were so many sailors around the world writing about a creature that’s supposed to be confined to the southern hemisphere? “Sailors in the north were also getting in on the action, reporting that they had ‘caught 10 wogens’ or ‘saw wargins’ … What if they were great auks? Also flightless, with large, hooked beaks and white eyespots, great auks went extinct sometime in the mid-1800s, hunted to death for their oily meat and fluffy down … As such, we know very little about them, and they have achieved near-mythical status among ornithologists … Early on in the list of woggin cameos, an explorer from 1860 reports that the birds ‘excited my wonder and attention.’ Mere lines later, sealers from 1869 are showing off ‘a bag full of woggins’ hearts, which we can roast on sticks, and who doubts that we shall make a heart-y supper?’ ”
  • A new biography of Angela Carter reveals (among other things) her gift for misandrist zingers: “Carter referred to Ian McEwan behind his back as ‘poor Ian’, as in, ‘poor Ian has been dreadfully overrated’—she was always chippy about what she saw, with perfect accuracy, as her own relative lack of reward and recognition, in comparison to that of certain men … Rick Moody remembered his first encounter with Carter at a creative writing seminar: ‘Some young guy in the back … raised his hand and, with a sort of withering skepticism, asked, “Well, what’s your work like?” … There were a lot of ums and ahs … Then she said, “My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.” ’ ”