Let me start out by saying I am not an expert. I also do not keep a detailed commonplace book. But, like most aspiring writers, I have a history of cluttering my house, bags, desk and random notebooks with snippets of information.
There’s a better way, I thought. And although I am as wired as the next person (pinterest, twitter, flickr, instagram, facebook, blogs, dropbox, windows drive etc etc), there’s something that seems different, and special, about the art of commonplacing. But the difference between keeping a well-thumbed, carefully arranged commonplace book vs a list of “likes” via an electronic device? Well that topic will be for another blog.
As I said, I’m an amateur, but from what I have seen already about commonplace books I can tell that:
- People have always had more or less the same thinking patterns. Modern electronic tools are an imitation of techniques studied and trialed for hundreds of years.
- Commonplace books should be seen as much as works of art as they are research tools.
- Commonplace books are a unique portal into the mind of the authors. Other writing forms – scrapbooking, memoirs, even journals – were often written self-consciously with a view for existing or future readers. On the other hand, commonplace books were an everyday tool for memory, filled with snippets that the author found most worth recording/memorizing. It is a direct perspective into how they saw the world.
- Taxonomy is sexy. Don’t believe me? Take a look through the glorious high-res scans (below) from the Harvard University Library collection.
I am not an expert. I’ll be delving into this world mostly via Google searches and by flicking through online collections, and I’ll be following what peaks my interest. A quick Google of “commonplace books” will show you commonplace books are beginning to be more popular, but from what I have found so far, this is limited to some short blogs and a high-level overview. I want to dig deeper. Much deeper.
Commonplacing is a lost art form, but any student, or writer, or anyone interested in learning for the sake of learning can tell you about their trials of notepads, paper scraps and messy index cards.
Lets dust off those beautiful old books and see what there is to discover. We’ll all be better for it.
Still not convinced? Check out this great blog posts for an intro: How and Why to Keep a “Commonplace Book” – Ryan Halliday http://thoughtcatalog.com/ryan-holiday/2013/08/how-and-why-to-keep-a-commonplace-book/
And some light entertainment: An Introduction to Commonplace Books http://theroadpavedwithwords.tumblr.com/post/66675803233/an-introduction-to-commonplace-books