Private libraries and kleptobibliophilia

“Bibliothecae” – library or collection of books.  Kleptobibliophile – sadly not a real word but one that appears in the Wikipedia entry on Private Libraries, and a great way to describe some of the collection habits in the past.

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The Notes Matrix – thoughts in public

So here’s a quickie about what I have been thinking.  We usually hear general comments about notetaking being the same, e.g.

– A blog is a virtual commonplace book

– Facebook is a modern scrapbook

– What’s the difference between a journal/notebook/diary again?

Here’s the way I see it.  The main questions are:

1. Are you writing the content just for yourself?

2. Are you writing the content so someone else (family, friends, the whole world) can see it?


Notetaking Matrix

Commonplace books?  I don’t agree with the idea that blogs are the modern commonplace books.  A blog is a public persona.  A commonplace was a private internet, a private tool to help someone present a persona.  Showing someone your commonplace book seems the equivalent of showing them your shaving kit.  You wouldn’t want people to see the commonplace itself if the idea is that you make it (‘it’ being your wit, knowledge, ability to quote poetry/prose) seem natural.

But then again it’s that “man behind the curtain” element that I think makes commonplaces so interesting for me.  What type of personal tool would someone from different countries and different eras find essential to present their impression of the best “public persona”?  What specific quotes would they want to memorise for exactly the right time?  What events do they want to recall quickly in a social setting, with the help of their essential little leatherbound book?

It’s different for everyone, of course.

16thC Recipe book, handwriting and UPenn Library

I’m trying to decide what I like better about online commonplace books, the snapshot of daily life centuries ago, the new info you find from reading the commentary of what that person found most important to remember, or just looking at the art of the bound book, the handwriting and the structure of the work itself.

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Alan Turing’s notebook, <$1m sale

After being discovered as roof insulation, Alan Turing’s notebook is up for auction.  The Guardian reports a petition has started to keep the document in the UK.

After being granted an apology by the British government in 2009 (leading to posthumous pardon by the Queen in 2013) the purchase of his notebook would be a good step.

Granted, the timing of the sale alongside the Hollywood movie seems a little calculated (pun intended), but at the end of the day this is will be forever a piece of British – and world – history.  I can’t recall who said it, but there is a quote that 10,000 years from now, only one person’s name will be remembered from these times.  That quote is about Neil Armstrong.  But in terms of impact on the course of science – not to mention the course of WW2 – Alan Turing is also near the top of the list to remember.

Bonhams auction:

The petition website:

Commonplace review: F Longworth-Dames post #1

I am only starting on this journey of reviewing commonplace books, but already I am starting to see the task as a mash-up of detective work, pop (and not so pop) culture research, fine wine tasting and forensic psychology.  Not that I am qualified for any of the above, apart from the fine wine tasting, or course.  But that is, after all, just a metaphor.

The Trinity College site has a great interface for their manuscripts (link via “read commonplaces online” page).  The high-res scans load quickly and it looks like their selection is well-researched, if focused on a few individuals.  One downside is that I can’t find a summary page of the manuscripts, and it’s practically impossible to link directly to a record (which I’d like to for this post).

I am looking through commonplace #3 in the Francis Longworth-Dames collection.  If only we had journals like this to write in nowadays.

Commonplace leather cover

Stunning cover, and the inside has a great explanatory section about commonplaces.

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Who cares about notebooks, anyway?

Imagine you are the centre of the world.  Not difficult for many of us, deep down.  Regardless of how much we understand about how others live and see the world, we are the director, author and sole actor in the screenplay of our lives.

We crave the vicarious experience of seeing through another person’s eyes, through a camera lens or the words on the page, and it is not a mistake that the words we use to describe a masterful work is connected to this feeling.  We are “caught up”, “carried away”, we “lose ourselves” in the story.  But even in the best works, we are always conscious of ourselves as the observer, something that artists play with, exploit, comment on, but can never overcome.

We are the amalgam of those tangled thoughts in our heads, conflicting, contradicting, negotiating.  We see ourselves in the singular by the mere fact that we have only one body to express the multitude of potential actions that compete for primacy every waking moment.  And we are a generation of the image, the presentation to the world of the best of our faces, the one that ends up on our Facebook page, our Instagram account, our studied words on a self-conscious blog.

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