Start a commonplace book

Year

2004
Start a commonplace book

Since the Renaissance, devoted readers have been copying their favorite poems and quotations into notebooks to form their own personal anthologies called "commonplace books." These collections can be a source of enjoyment and solace, reminding the keeper of favorite books and poems, and can even become family heirlooms. You may devote a corner of a regular journal to jotting down quotes or poems that strike your fancy or obtain a blank book just for this purpose.

As Max W. Thomas says in "Reading and Writing the Renaissance Commonplace Book: A Question of Authorship?", "commonplace books are about memory, which takes both material and immaterial form; the commonplace book is like a record of what that memory might look like." Or, in Jonathan Swift's words:

"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that 'great wits have short memories:' and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day's reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own original thoughts, (which, a hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men as you think fit to make your own, by entering them there."
—from "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Today, find a small notebook to record poems or fragments of poems that you come across in your reading. As you add to your own commonplace book, you will be drawing a map of your life as a reader and thinker, creating a valuable portrait of your memory and time.