Commonplace Books

1 Sep

I am definitely not the first to refer to a blog as the contemporary version of the commonplace book. Here’s the transcript of an interesting lecture on the topic: The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book. In my teens and early twenties, I was an excellent steward of the commonplace book, though I’d not heard of the practice at that point. I was an avid reader of poetry and fiction, and I collected lines, phrases, and words that I loved. Maybe part of why I developed that practice was because, at that point in my life, I was rarely the owner of the books I read – most belonged to the school, the college, or the library – and I needed some way to remember what I read and loved. I also fancied myself a poet, and I kept these books so that I had something to write about. 

Flash forward a decade or two, and though I still read, what I read has changed, and though I write, what I write has changed too. Nonfiction is the ruler of the roost (aka my desk) these days. Even the physical space is revealing – when I think of myself reading and writing these days, I imagine sitting at my desk, book on the left, computer on the right, reading and taking notes simultaneously. This is a fairly far cry from the curled-in-corners reading and writing of my youth. And though I think that some of that has to do with the switch from fiction to nonfiction, most of it has to do with the switch from reading for pleasure to reading for information. In “The Transactional Theory of Reading and Writing”, Louise Rosenblatt writes about the efferent-aesthetic continuum, explaining that readers who are reading efferently are concerned with what is to be “extracted and retained” after the reading, while readers who are reading aesthetically are more focused on the “sensations, images, feelings, and ideas”. In my reading life, I think this steady move towards the efferent, away from the aesthetic, explains my own abandonment of commonplacing. However, I don’t think that this is at all necessary, and I’d like to use this blog as a way to reclaim that drive to record, not always evocative language, but evocative ideas. Just because I am reading for information does not mean that I am not moved by what I read. This blog is basically my attempt to heard all of those “WOW!” and “I LOVE THIS!” and “NO WAY!” Post-it notes that are peeking out of all of my books and all of those abandoned electronic bookmarks into one place so that I can begin to reflect on patterns and share my reading and thinking with others. So glad you’re here!

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