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Commonplace books

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message 1: by Kay (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:50AM) (new)

Kay | 8 comments Just curious to see how many of you keep commonplace books and how successful you've been at actually keeping them. Mine seems to go in fits and starts and has gone from being a dog-eared sheaf of notes to a more respectable hardbound journal, and now it's entirely electronic (but not, to my mind, as satisfying -- I'd revert to my handwritten journal if I could decipher my own handwriting anymore).


message 2: by Sfdreams (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:51AM) (new)

Sfdreams | 1 comments Kay,
I don't know if I know what "commonplace books" are. From your post, it seems like it refers to a journal or notebook?

If so, I have taken to carrying around a small notebook to keep track of titles of books, things to do, websites to check out, any and all things that I don't want to forget.

I haven't been good at journaling/keeping a diary. I go in fits and starts and think what I wrote is too whiny and stop. I have been thinking about journaling again lately, but haven't actually started.

p.s. I have a hard time reading my handwriting too! It's become more like chicken tracks as I've aged.


message 3: by Kay (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:51AM) (new)

Kay | 8 comments Sorry, didn't mean to be confusing. Yes, a commonplace book is a journal or notebook, but it's a little more than that. It's not a diary; it's more "notes to oneself." Here's the Wikipedia definition, which I found to be nicely comprehensive:

"Commonplace books (or commonplaces) emerged in the 15th century with the availability of cheap paper for writing, mainly in England. They were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interests.

By the 1600s, commonplacing had become a recognized practice that was formally taught to college students in such institutions as Oxford. The commonplace tradition in which Bacon and Milton were educated had its roots in the pedagogy of classical rhetoric and “commonplacing” persisted as a popular study technique until the early twentieth century. Both Emerson and Thoreau were taught to keep commonplace books at Harvard (their commonplace books survive in published form). Commonplacing was particularly attractive to authors. Some, such as Coleridge and Mark Twain, kept messy reading notes that were intermixed with other quite various material; others, such as Thomas Hardy, followed a more formal reading-notes method that mirrored the original Renaissance practice more closely. The older, "clearinghouse" function of the commonplace book, to condense and centralize useful and even "model" ideas and expressions, became less popular over time.

"Commonplace" is a translation of the Latin term locus communis which means "a theme or argument of general application", such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of such sayings, such as Milton's commonplace book. Scholars have expanded this usage to include any manuscript that collects material along a common theme by an individual.

Critically, many of these works are not seen to have literary value to modern editors. However, the value of such collections is the insights they offer into the tastes, interests, personalities and concerns of their individual compilers.

From the standpoint of the psychology of authorship, it is noteworthy that keeping notebooks is in itself a kind of tradition among litterateurs. A commonplace book of literary memoranda may serve as a symbol to the keeper, therefore, of the person's literary identity (or something psychologically not far-removed), quite apart from its obvious value as a written record. That commonplace books (and other personal note-books) can enjoy this special status is supported by the fact that authors frequently treat their notebooks as quasi-works, giving them elaborate titles, compiling them neatly from rough notes, recompiling still neater revisions of them later, and preserving them with a special devotion and care that seems out of proportion to their apparent function as working materials."

(Me again) I wasn't familiar with the term itself until some years back when book critic Michael Dirda asked me if I kept a "commonplace book." At the time, I assumed he meant a list of quotations, but since then I've realized that, as the article above indicates, it's really much more than that.

In some ways, I'm beginning to see the value of this website as a modern day version of a commonplace book. That's how I'm treating it, at any rate.

Enjoying all your quotes. Clearly, I need to read more Nabokov!


message 4: by Andygoat (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:52AM) (new)

Andygoat | 2 comments Thanks for the definition, Kay,
I carry around a little moleskin notebook in my pocket pretty much all the time. I write down phone #s and quotes and moments of inspiration, quick sketches of stories i'll probably never write, or descriptions of things i see so that i can later look them up.
It's disorganized and chaotic, but extraordinarily useful. I have a page of adjectives by mood, and a few pages of obscure words defined, a page of small details of different kinds of places and people, etc etc etc.
When I sit down to 'actually' write, I can flip to my angry page (for example) and have loads of adjectives, and some nouns and verbs, that all are suggestive of anger to me. Not only does it help to get me in the mood, but it gives me a wordbank to use in my scene.

I'm blathering.
But I'm also curious what other people write down in their commonplaces, or pocket notebooks, or on cocktail napkins or whatever it is they write on when they need to suddenly record something.


message 5: by Kay (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:52AM) (new)

Kay | 8 comments Not blathering a bit, Andygoat.

Cocktail napkins! This reminds me of a dinner cruise I went on with physicist husband and a bunch of his colleagues. After dinner, pairs or trios of physicists hunched over cocktail napkins, scribbling down formulae as they talked animatedly to one another, completely ignoring the schmaltzy after dinner entertainment (which was too loud, and hence the need for cocktail napkin notes).

(Boy, talk about blathering. Ahem.)

Basically, I write down anything I want to remember and am afraid I'll forget, plus ideas or phrases that occur to me that I want to pursue or use later.

Trouble is, I'm often in a place where pen and paper are not to hand when I have these thoughts, such as taking a walk or soaking in the bathtub. For a while, I even used to carry a mini tape recorder so that I could quickly make a note of something, say, as I was driving down the road.

I keep separate little 4x6 notebooks when I travel; they later get filed with all the various things (brochures, postcards, maps, etc) that I've picked up on the trip.

My problem, really, is that my commonplace book isn't a single book, it's just a vast, unmanageable collection of notes, recordings (untranscribed), post-its, scribblings on grocery store receipts, bits and pieces cut-and-pasted from wherever I found them on line, things I underlined and never managed to write down... it goes on and on.

Anytime I try to wrestle it all into a "system," it just sneers at me.


message 6: by Heather (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:53AM) (new)

Heather (adorabubbles) | 3 comments thanks for posting that definition, kay! i loved reading it.

once in a while i carry a little notebook with me for random notetaking. the problem is that i usually forget and leave it at home, so what i often end up doing is typing my notes into my cell phone. then i type them up later, on a private blog solely for my writing-related scribblings. =)


message 7: by crafty_puppy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:54AM) (new)

crafty_puppy | 2 comments I keep a small journal/notebook/to do list book.. I write my to dos and appointments in the front part, with 1 or 2 days to a page, and then 'NOTES TO SELF' from the back...
:Planning notes on social activities I arrange, book lists, sketches of ideas for new clothing, designs for things I want to make, movies to borrow from the library, phone numbers, etc...
I used to keep a diary/journal from the time I was 12. But I realized the MORE LIFE I LIVE, the less time I have for the diary! Also I seem to write in it more when I am unhappy and reading it later is REALLY DEPRESSING!!! (and silly!)
I also have some internet "journals" that I don't really keep up with...
Mostly they serve to hold ideas I think up, or lists of movies, etc...

I think I need to get a PALM PILOT.

DOES ANYONE HAVE ONE??
Like it for note taking?
List making?


message 8: by Blanca (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:55AM) (new)

Blanca | 6 comments Yes, I do use a Palm Pilot because I thought I could consolidate all my notes and lists in a single source.

And as enthusiastic as I was to use it for that purpose, I find that I only replaced my calendar. My pilot does have a feature where you don't have to type, you can just write like a note pad. I have only used it for quick notes I don't want to forget. Otherwise, I found that I missed the hard copy of my notebook.

Would it help if you got a beautiful blank little notebook, so that it was easy to carry and visually alluring to you? I have one that I got as a bridesmaid gift and I use it as my reading, movie, important phone numbers, dates list. It is also a good idea to have a hard copy of this info b/c palm pilots can die and there goes all those important lists! My palm is a Z 22. Very cute and handy.


message 9: by Elizabeth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:56AM) (new)

Elizabeth | 1 comments It seems that I have been keeping a commonplace book for many years now and never knew it! It started out spontaneously transcribing recipes as my mother baked one Christmas. These were cakes and puddings that I had eaten and made but would never be able to re-create, not least because the recipes largely existed only in her mind. From there other recipes were jotted, a huge section on wines developed, as its so nice to jot down some details when I hit on a good bottle in a restaurant or friend's house (and its a good way to compliment your host/ess!). Scattered in there are quotes and details of books or talks, notes from phone conversations and prep for interviews! I could go on.

I do agree with Blanca that part of the attraction is to have something uplifting to write in, so its mere presence brings a smile.


message 10: by crafty_puppy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:02PM) (new)

crafty_puppy | 2 comments I keep trying to get cute little nice ones, but I keep misplacing them in my room.
I have so many of them, I need to consolidate my lists! (movies, books to read, places to go, addresses, birthdays, gifts given and the event, etc!)

On your palm, can you have more than one lIST?
Is it easy to use?

I have never lost my PHONE yet and I am thinking maybe a digital device I won't lose (cause I keep losing the books!)...

Thanks for the comments!
~CP


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