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Worst Book Idea Ever! Gadsby- The Novel with No Letter E

January 22, 2013

 

The 100 English Scrabble Letters

If you think Scrabble is difficult to play without using the letter “E,” try writing a 50,000 word book without it. (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

As much as readers and writers love literature, we have to admit that the literary world abounds with bad ideas.  For example:

* Snooki got a book deal.

*Somebody other than Mario Puzo wrote a sequel to The Godfather.

*Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series is a bad idea (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, ugh!… but it seems to be working for her.  Bad ideas work sometimes).

* Stephen King is writing a sequel to The Shining (the sequel and the idea behind the sequel both seem like bad ideas to me, but he’s Stephen King, and I’m not).

*Madonna writes children’s books.

*Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote a six-word short story on a napkin.  A six-word short story is a great idea, but writing a story on a napkin is not.

But the worst idea ever in literature was Gadsby: A Lipogram Novel by Ernest Vincent Wright in 1939.  The bad idea behind the book?  50,000 words without the letter “E.”  That’s it.

Writing anything without the letter E is difficult.  Even Hemingway’s mythical(?) six-word story (“For sale.  Baby shoes.  Never worn.”) had a bunch of Es.  Ernest Vincent Wright’s name had a few Es in it (that didn’t count, he claimed, and I agree with him on that).  “E” is the most commonly used letter in the alphabet, (according to the  Oxford Dictionary ) used 57 times more than the least used letters “J” or “Q.”  I was expecting “Z” to be the least used letter, but I’m not going to argue with Oxford.

Gadsby: A Lipogram Novel  or  (Gadsby: Champion of Youth ) is not the WORST BOOK EVER!  It’s just the worst idea.  Since Wright wrote 50,000 words without using E, I’ll give him some credit.  If he had slipped up and accidentally used an E, then it would have been worst book.  If he had gone insane and had pages filled with “EEEEE I can’t take it anymore!! EEEEEEE!” then his book might have been WORST BOOK EVER!  But he was successful.  And I’ll give an author credit for successfully completing the WORST IDEA ever.

Writing without any Es is the ultimate literary gimmick.  Literary gimmicks, however, should add something to the piece of literature.  If a book is consumed by the gimmick, then the piece of literature is… gimmicky?  And Gadsby was definitely consumed by the gimmick (and consumed by a fire too.  Most copies of Gadsby burned in a warehouse fire in 1939, so original copies of the book are very rare.).

Even without the gimmick, Gadsby probably wouldn’t have been for me.  Gadsby is about youth.  I don’t care for kids all that much.  I love my own kids, but I’m not really interested in the “Champion of Youth.”  To read a 50,000 words book (with or without Es), I have to be interested in the topic, and even then there’s no guarantee that I’ll finish the book.

When reading the prose of Gadsby: Champion of Youth, I was always aware of the lack of an “e.”  I couldn’t get into the story (if I ever got to it, I’m not sure) because I was too aware of the e-lessness of the text.

I’ll give Ernest Wright credit for a couple things.  He’s achieved something nobody else has done.  I’m pretty sure nobody is going to write a 50,000+ word book without an E.  Then again, some people will do anything for attention.  Wright also created a book that people should know about.  Even if this book was a really bad idea, people should at least be aware of its existence.  And flip through a few pages (probably e-pages).  And then laugh (or nod) and move on to something else.

ONE SENTENCE WITHOUT AN E

Writing without that most common word symbol is fun as a brain building opportunity, but analyzing the words is not amusing and it hurts the mind.

TRANSLATION

Writing without an E is fun as a challenge, but reading the results can be a chore.

*****

DISCLAIMER!

I don’t know if a 50,000 word book without Es is really the worst book idea ever because I haven’t heard every single book idea ever.  So if you’ve heard of a worse idea, feel free to let me know.

*****

Maybe I shouldn’t speak badly about a book with no letter “e.”  My own ebook is about a story that I wrote in high school (a YA romance) and some weird stuff that happened to me after people read it.

Like I said, it might have been a bad idea, but I used every single letter in the alphabet.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

 

23 Comments
  1. I’m going to have to seek out that book. Reminds me of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, which I had to read at NYU, and had no punctuation. That was a pain to read…

    • No punctuation? I wish my writing instructors would have let me experiment with that literary gimmick (but I understand why that wouldn’t have been a good idea).

  2. I hate the way celebrities decide to publish children’s books. They don’t have to sit in the slog pile year after year. They can act? Of course, then they can write. Apparently. Pisses me off too.

    • My wife bought a children’s book written by Jamie Lee Curtis years ago. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very imaginative, and it was a bit preachy (if I remember correctly). I don’t get why they think writing children’s books is the direction they need to go, but… oh well.

  3. I had blocked that first travesty out of my mind. She actually did a book signing in my area and the local newspaper went nuts about it. It was not a fun article for me to read.

    • I’m sorry I brought up a bad memory for you. I read one of her books in the series, and it had some good qualities, but 26 of them? As a reader, that takes dedication that I don’t give to any writer.

  4. You used the word “the”, which has an “e” in it, in your sample sentence. Twice.

    • Ugh! I knew I should have taped over the E key! I guess I can replace the first “the” with “a group of” and the second “the” with “a.” Thanks for the quick catch!

      • I was going to catch u out on that one as well but I see I’m too late! Enjoying your blog so far 🙂

  5. I think writing a book without “e” is like trying to run a marathon without using your left foot. It’s going to suck, be painful for everyone and is ultimately pointless beyond saying you did it.

    I wonder what the worst novel ever to get published. There should be a search to find it. I would read that book. Bad books are hard to read, but the worst one would probably be awesome.

    • It’s much easier to think of the worst book idea ever than the worst book ever because we’d have to actually read and finish a bunch of bad books to really be able to judge the worst book ever. At least with the worst book idea ever, we don’t have to really finish the books. We can just say, “Hey, that was bad idea.”

      I wouldn’t mind if somebody else told me what the worst book ever was. Like you, I might actually read it.

  6. Wow. As shitty an idea as it is…I’m impressed. I wouldn’t waste time reading it though. I don’t think the story should ever come second. That had to be hard for him, I wonder if it was worth it? Glad you shared this!

    • Interesting. I think the story should always come second. In fact, I go along with John Hawkes who famously commented: “I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme.”

      • I get what you’re saying. I agree in the sense that you shouldn’t box yourself in with limitations of where the story is going (plot, setting, etc.) and in this case I think making the main focus not using E’s has the same effect on the story. Maybe it hinders. I like what you said and the quote you shared though and now I’m thinking about the whole thing more in depth so thanks! Its all really interesting.

  7. This type of constrained writing is known as a Lipogram. Georges Perec wrote his 300-page novel La disparition (1969) without ever using the letter “e” (translated into English by Gilbert Adair as A Void). It has been conjectured that the vanished letter might be considered a metaphor for the Jewish experience during the Second World War, and, in keeping with both history and literary theory, since the name “Georges Perec” is full of “e”s, the disappearance of the letter also suggests the author’s own “disappearance” (he was both the author and Jewish). Perec later wrote the short novel Les revenentes (1972) which used the letter “e” as its only vowel (English translation by Ian Monk was The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex).

    In 1960 Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais founded Oulipo, Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which sought to create works using constrained writing techniques. As such, the members of OULIPO are a mixture of literary types and mathematics types. Mathematically constrained writing is often the test and the goal of Oulipo.

    Harry Mathews, the lone American member of Oulipo, has edited an excellent and informative anthology titled the Oulipo Compendium. Recommended.

  8. My God Madonna write childrens books!? A sequel to The Shining!? Where have I been? Its so true though about bad ideas sometimes working, I mean I’m sure Snooki doesn’t ride the bus anywhere if you catch my drift. The actual topic of the book to me seems interesting but the exclusion of the letter ‘E’ just seems like a senseless gimmick, not to mention one that could make it potentially unreadable.

    Great post though, any chance you could check out my blog when you get a chance? Many thanks.

  9. lucewriter permalink

    Ugh, I want to crawl back into bed after reading this! Great post!

  10. Seek no more, folks!

    (And hang in there, though: this’ll be a very, very long post. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

    If you’re willing to give this baby a look, then I’ve finally brought it to you:

    The original Wetzel edition is now available at the Internet Archive! And if you want to know more, read my behind-the-scenes essay in an all-new Special Edition, out now at Amazon’s Kindle Store.

    Cost: Just two dollars. (That’s a lipogram–and so was this book.)

    To you it may be one of the worst book ideas, but to me it was one of the best publishing ideas I ever considered! Took me all of 177 days to get to where I am now. Enough for me to re-issue the work at Amazon’s Kindle Store last October and bundle it up with a special behind-the-scenes essay I wrote just for this edition. (Look out for a revised edition soon!)

    A few fun facts not covered here:

    * Author Ernest Vincent Wright dabbled in the poetry field many years before Gadsby. The Wonderful Fairies of the Sun (1896), The Fairies That Run the World and How They Do It (1903) and Thoughts and Reveries of an American Bluejacket (1918) represented his talent at the time. (He also wrote “When Father Carves the Duck”, which appeared in an 1891 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript.
    * Wright served as a piccolo and flute musician under the employ of the U.S. Navy during the First World War.
    * A native of Boston (and an M.I.T. student), he also lived in Florida and California during his later years.
    * Robert Ripley’s newspaper feature, “Believe It or Not”, made mention of Wright’s novel no less than three times during the 1930s and 1940s.
    * This will no doubt come as a surprise to animation fans: One of the characters in Gadsby shares his name with a stop-motion legend. That’s Arthur Rankin, partner of Jules Bass. (I managed to take notice of that some days ago.)
    * The work is now is the U.S. public domain, thanks to renewal failure before January 1, 1968. (At the time, the copyright on U.S.-published works initially lasted 28 years, and rights holders had the the option to renew for another 28. After all we’ve been through in the past decade and a half, thank goodness we don’t have to wait until 2035!)

    DCJC

    AMDG

    2/2/2013

    Google+ (#WhatLiesAground)

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