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Gadsby: A Lipogram Novel Paperback – August 12, 2011
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Wright spent five and a half months writing Gadsby on a typewriter with the "e" key tied down so that it couldn't be used at all. A warehouse holding copies of Gadsby burned shortly after the book was printed, destroying most copies of the ill-fated novel. The book was never reviewed and only kept alive by the efforts of a few avant-garde intellos and assorted connoisseurs of the odd, weird and zany. But by word-of-mouth it has become an underground cult classic. The book's scarcity and oddness has in the past seen copies priced at $4,000 by book dealers. Over time, this peculiar masterpiece has had many curious readers open to this interestingly unusual reading experience.
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But what of Wright's story, in its own right? It's a bit of an oddity, not much akin to your standard thrilling horror or action romp. It's about a bustling and philanthropic chap of "about fifty", Gadsby, who hits on a plan to "doll up" his snoozy town, Branton Hills, through co-opting its kids skills and "oomph". It all has a boy-scoutish air about it. Gadsby (who is soon mayor of Branton Hills) again and again draws cash from his town's rich to fund his various plans: a zoo, a radio station, a night-school, a library and what our author must call "a film-show" to maintain his "odd yarn's strict orthography". (Is Gadsby a sly satirical spoof of socialism and rampant municipal output, a cryptic dig at FDR and his ilk? Who knows?)
I didn't mind Gadsby's almost total lack of risk, hazard or conflict. Art, it is always said, should know no dogma. But how many fictions can do without animosity, fighting, iniquity, pain, agony, fatality? Why can our yarns not focus on happy and normal things, on ordinary triumphs and small stumbling blocks? That, and not Gadsby's "strict orthography", may stand as its signal triumph.
But mayhap you think such a book must grow boring, as soon as its gimmick stops amusing. Is Gadsby just a curio? Not so, in truth. Bring to mind, if you will, how a handicap or a difficulty may turn out an actual spur to imagination, to flair and to art--much as that Islamic ban on picturing humans or animals brought about such wondrous abstract art and calligraphy . Gadsby's writing has a roundabout, piquant, unorthodox flavour. It is in its own class; no book is similar to it. How many authors strain for originality! What a small fraction of all books can truly claim that trait! But Gadsby can, and not just for its famous gimmick.
I wind up with a quotation that shows Wright's quirky mind, as fits a man who would think up and follow through on such a notion as this book. Location, Branton Hill's zoo: "A boy grinningly `got a girl's goat' by wanting to kis a fifty-foot anaconda; causing Lucy to say, haughtily, that `No boy, wanting to kiss such horrid, wriggly things can kiss us Branton Hills girls.' (Good for you, Lucy! I'd pass up a sixty-foot anaconda, any day, for you!)"
There's a great old book called Gadsby
that you really have to see
The entire book was written
without a letter "E"
Written as a lipogram
a writing exercise
and it should have won a prize
It hardly got a mention
back in nineteen thirty nine
The author died soon after
with scarcely a history line
In our english language
letter "E" is the most used
How to write this book then
would have me quite confused
You can't use "one"or "three" or "five"
and "seven through ten" taboo
No "Mr." or "Mrs." no "the" "me" or "we"
"chapter" and "verse" eschew
The author describes how letter "E's"
as animated figures
Would climb his arm and ride his pen
the crafty little wrigglers
They'd wait for any little chance
to slip onto his page
He said he'd have to chase them off
with sudden fits of rage
When it came time for typing
the answer was quite plain
He tied the letter "E's" arm down
and there it would remain
Ernest Vincent Wright
he clearly was a master
But in his day he was ignored
it's such a great disaster
I've read the book and liked it
it really is a pleasure
From reading it alone
you wouldn't know you had a treasure
The tale is of John Gadsby
who lives in Branton Hills
He sees his town has gone to seed
and remedies these ills
He gets a youth group started
and soon the town's reviving
John becomes the Mayor
and the children all are thriving
There's many other samples
of this restrictive writing
I think this was a first
why this one's so inviting
The quality of my copy would have been better if they used a higher resolution for the cover image. The image is stretched, yet the title and author's name are clearly visible.
I only paid 7 dollars, but I feel I could have spent my money better elsewhere.
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