Friday, February 25, 2011

Lyrical Language

Christmas brought an unexpected gift. Lyrical language. I received a Kindle. If you are a voracious reader like myself, a Kindle can be a wickedly dangerous device. After all, it's a direct connection between my bank account and that of one Mr. Jeff Bezos. With a simple, need I say unconscious press of the index finger, a treasure instantly downloads onto your device, and my money? It fattens the shareholders of Amazon.

As a small child, I used to check out seven books each week. When I discovered my mother limited me to the number of books, and not the number of pages, well, you can imagine the heft of each book. There's no such limitation with the Kindle.

The Kindle is much more delightful than a stack of library books. The mysterious device lives in my pocketbook, never more than two feet away from my ready grasp. At the coffee shop, while waiting patiently for clients or dentists, although I confess I've never opened the slim cover at a stop light, I have enraged the odd flight attendant or too by not closing the device as landing approached.

But the lyrical language?

Oh, that's right. I promised you lyrical language. But didn't I also promise you the truth? The truth is I've discovered reading in 2010 is very different from my childhood. While up to my eyeballs in Mark Twain's autobiography, I found a lengthy story about General U.S. Grant's autobiography. Two clicks of the Kindle, and voila, a free version of General Grant's autobiography was safely on its way to my happy hands.

Hiram Ulysses Grant, enrolled at West Point by his sponsor under the name Ulysses Simpson Grant, possessed the gifts of clarity, vision, and truth. His words, the lyrical language he chose, rattles around in my brain, even while I sleep. On revolution he said, “Now the right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by withdrawal from it, or by overthowing it and substuiting a government more acceptable. But any people or part of a people who resort to this remedy, stake their lives, their property, and every claim for protection given by citizenship – on the issue.”

Given the recent events in the world, these words struck my heart like a steel anvil. Read the quote again. In today's language, we might be tempted to say, “Love the player, hate the game.” You can spin this statement in many different directions, depending on your point of view, the stakes, and sadly the outcomes.

But what I've found compelling in Grant's words are the cautions he gives to countries, generals, and individual citizens. And to think, I would have never found this treasure, save for a curious mind and the easy of access provided by my electro-mechanical book. Grant has more words of wisdom that I'll be sharing today on my twitter feed (clphillips787).

But back to Mark Twain. Twain it seems, had a knack for spotting true character in an individual. He knew Grant well enough to know that the man would make a poor business deal by hooking up with the first publisher that made him an offer.

To hear Mark Twain tell the story, the writing and publishing business wasn't much different than today. Can you believe that General Grant, ex-president Grant, a man of many accomplishments was so unsure that anyone would read his autobiography that he nearly went with the first publisher, a small house that thought they could sell 5,000 copies. Sound familiar? But what does that have to do with lyrical language you ask?

Mark Twain knew a story when he read one. After reading a couple of articles Grant wrote for a magazine and knowing the subject matter, the Civil War, Twain knew a blockbuster when he saw it. He encouraged General Grant to entertain offers from several publishing houses. His memoirs were published in 1885, shortly after his death. More than 300,000 copies were sold, the exact number that Mark Twain predicted.

The man had a story, more than that, he had a gift for lyrical language. The rare combination of vision, clarity, insight and truth. As as the reader, he pulls emotions from you. Even after 120 years.

May you discover lyrical language in what you read today.


Annette said...

C.L., I received a Nook for Christmas and find the ease of purchasing a new book on a whim to be extremely dangerous to my bank account. And I, too, have discovered some lyrical language through it that I might have missed otherwise.

C.L. Phillips said...


Any lyrical recommendations? Something off the beaten path?

Annette said...

Not really off the beaten path. But after seeing True Grit at the movies, I bought the book on Nook on impulse. Somehow, I'd never read it before. Go figure. I'm so glad I made that impulse purchase.

C.L. Phillips said...


True Grit - it's on my list! That's one movie I would love to study. The dialogue was exquisite. The meter, the tone, all of it.

C.L. Phillips said...

Here's the link to General Grant's autobiography over at Amazon. Not an affiliate link or anything, simply a reference in case anyone is interested.

I'm amazed at the number of books over 100 years old that are Kindle-ized by community volunteers.

Jenna said...

I was going to buy a Kindle for my trip to Norway. Instead I ended up buying an iPad, because I can also write on it. It's a little bigger than the Kindle, and it weighs a little more (and is a lot more expensive), but I can read on it. And write. And watch movies. And do a lot of other, wonderful things. So far I haven't bought a lot of books, though. Just a couple from friends. In support, you know. ;-)

As for lyrical language, I've heard True Grit is amazing. Both book and movie. The actors had a difficult time with the language, I understand. For myself, I have to admit I'm shallow. I tend to go for a quick pace instead of lyrical language, and it isn't often you find both. I'm not slamming genre fiction in any way - it's what I both read and write, so obviously I like it - but it's not where you find exquisitely beautiful turning of phrase, usually.

Joyce Tremel said...

I've downloaded some freebies for my Kindle, but haven't really read any of them yet. I'm saving buying books for when I finish my WIP. Kind of like a reward.

I've always loved Mark Twain. I did a research paper on him way back when I was in high school.

I've been told Grant's autobiography is worth reading. I recently watched a show about him on PBS (thanks a lot, douchebags in the House for cutting funding for the ONLY channel on TV worth watching!). It was a great program.

C.L. Phillips said...

What I find interesting is the way that nooks, kindles, and ipads are changing the fundamental way READERS are engaging with the written word.

Much more so than a computer ever did for me.

I'm actually viewing electronic words as FUN for the first time. Fun as in a purely recreational sense. Go figure.

Sylvia Ney said...

Isn't the ereader addictive? I received a NookColor for Christmas and already have about 150 titles downloaded.

You have a great blog. I found you through a friend and I look forward to reading more from you. If you have a chance, please check out my blog:

C.L. Phillips said...


Welcome to Working Stiffs. 150 titles, wow - you are well ahead of my personal best.

Anything you recommend we read? Something with lyrical language?

Christiana said...

Hello there! I'm a Pennwriter from Area 1, and one of our members was recently raving about a video you guys made featuring two bears(pigs?). One wanted to be a writer and the other wanted him to face reality. We watched it at our Thursday night writer's group, but there were so many of us crowded around the laptop that it was hard to hear. I've searched for it again and can't find it. Can you point me in the right direction? From what I could hear it was pretty funny!

Annette said...

Christiana, I think this YouTube clip is the one you're referring to:
"So You Want to Write a Novel"

Christiana said...

That's it! Thank you!