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SNEAK PEEK #2: Ridiculous Feats of Literature

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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.

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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

Cephalopod Fossil Sketch in Australia Can Be Seen From Space

Australia is home to some of the most singular creatures alive today, but a new piece of outdoor art pays homage to an organism that last inhabited the continent 65 million years ago. As the Townsville Bulletin reports, an etching of a prehistoric ammonite has appeared in a barren field in Queensland.

Ammonites are the ancestors of the cephalopods that currently populate the world’s oceans. They had sharp beaks, dexterous tentacles, and spiraling shells that could grow more than 3 feet in diameter. The inland sea where the ammonites once thrived has since dried up, leaving only fossils as evidence of their existence. The newly plowed dirt mural acts as a larger-than-life reminder of the ancient animals.

To make a drawing big enough to be seen from space, mathematician David Kennedy plotted the image into a path consisting of more than 600 “way points.” Then, using a former War World II airfield as his canvas, the property’s owner Rob Ievers plowed the massive 1230-foot-by-820-foot artwork into the ground with his tractor.

The project was funded by Soil Science Australia, an organization that uses soil art to raise awareness of the importance of farming. The sketch doubles as a paleotourist attraction for the local area, which is home to Australia's "dinosaur trail" of museums and other fossil-related attractions. But to see the craftsmanship in all its glory, visitors will need to find a way to view it from above.

[h/t Townsville Bulletin]


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