The Help Desk: Caking your claim

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

What's the proper way to tell my aging father that if he gifts his art book collection, which I've been coveting my whole life and which made me go into arts curation, to my little brother who thinks he deserves everything, that I'm going to bring him back to life just so I can kill him again?


Witchy-Poo in Wedgewood

Dear Witchy-Poo,

In my family, we write all important missives on ice cream cakes. It makes news like “I’m engaged!” even more joyful – although the “You’re not my real dad!” cake and recent string of “I have diabetes!” cakes tasted decidedly bittersweet.

When crafting your cake, keep your message simple and direct: “Bequeath unto me your art book collection or else you are double dead unto me.” If your father is cake averse, you have two alternatives: On your next visit home, ask to borrow one of his books for research purposes and then say, “I know this is a morbid subject but when you die, I really hope you give me your collection. They sparked my passion for arts curation and I can’t think of a happier way to remember you than looking through them.” Or you can wait until Christmas (or Hanukkah or whatever fun superstition your family embraces – for us, it’s casual Satanism). Gift wrap his art books and address each present to yourself. Then be sure to note the surprise on everyone’s face when you unwrap them. This is how my devoutly Catholic aunt Mary came to gift me my first box of condoms for Christmas (or what we casual Satanists called “some Wednesday in December”). It makes for a fun, confusing way to get what you want!