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.

February 25, 2010 - 3:00am
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