SNEAK PEEK #2: Ridiculous Feats of Literature

Our ninth annual 10 Issue hits newsstands next Tuesday, and to celebrate we'll be previewing it here all week. One piece that truly makes me smile is the "10 Ridiculous Feats of Literature" list by Mark Juddery. Instead of judging works based on their artistic merit, we had Mark rank them by degree of difficulty. Here's just one of the entries he covered:

The Story That Will Never Be an E-Book: Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright

Screen shot 2010-02-24 at 3.03.18 AMSome might call Gadsby a "love" story. But Ernest Vincent Wright would avoid those words. Instead, he described his novel as a story of "strong liking" and "throbbing palpitation." That's because in 1939, the 67-year-old Bostonian writer gave himself one restriction while working on Gadsby: he promised to write without using the letter E.

Wright was motivated by the idea because he wanted to prove that a great writer could work around the restriction and still tell a gripping story. To prevent any stray E's from entering the text as he typed, he tied down his typewriter's E-key, and then put his expansive vocabulary to use. The result is an astounding feat of verbal gymnastics. In a vivid description of a wedding on page 93, Wright avoids using the words bride, priest, ceremony, and even the word wedding, which he calls "a grand church affair." To explain away the verbosity of the language, Wright created a narrator with a poor command of English and someone whose circumlocution even irritates the story's other characters.

When the book was announced, one skeptic attacked Wright in a letter, claiming the feat was impossible. "All right," replied Wright. "The impossible has been accomplished." Sadly, Wright didn't live long enough to revel in his glory. He died as the book was being published, and before it drew critical acclaim.

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Looking for more great lit tales? From the paralyzed author who dictated his memoir by blinking to the swami who wrote 843 poems in 24 hours, we've got it all in the new issue. Pick it up on newsstands next week. Or better yet, make our editors happy and order a subscription right here.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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