Friday, January 18, 2013

A Commonplace Book

This leather-bound book of handmade paper that I bought in Italy
would make a perfect commonplace book.

I am enchanted by images of leather-bound books crammed full of quotes and thoughts and remembrances all written in soft, sepia ink with a fountain pen. A secret place to keep lists, poems, and pithyisms. A book of pages brimming with photos and sketches and doodles; its edges overflowing with scraps of paper and ribbons and feathers.

In other words, a book full of life.

In earlier times scholars, authors, and thinkers kept what were known as commonplace books. Here is how Wikipedia explains them:

Such books 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 scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interests.

Such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Milton, and Virginia Woolf kept a commonplace book.

I come to this subject of commonplace books because of a post and attendant comments on mirabile dictu about the various types and styles of blogs. Let me say quite firmly: I do not like the word blog. When spoken, it sounds like a cross between the noises of burping and vomiting.

So I think of Belle, Book, and Candle as my commonplace book about books, reading, and related ideas that strike my fancy -- fountain pens, libraries, notebooks, journals, etc.

Although there are no pockets for ribbons and feathers, it is still a place where I list, quote, summarize, and reflect on my reading journey. And, it gives me the added joy of having conversations with others. 

Now if I could just figure out a way to write my entries with a fountain pen filled with soft, sepia ink.


  1. When you figure out how to post with "a fountain pen filled with soft, sepia Ink", do let us know, Belle. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    I keep a commonplace book and have for a long time. I fill it with mostly quotes that I cut out and paste, or, preferably, that I apply with my own hand. I actually wrote a post on commonplace books earlier in my musings (I dislike the word blog as well). You have inspired me to repost it and have given me an opportunity to link back to your post. Thank you.

    1. I am envious that you have kept a commonplace book. I will look forward to reading your post...whether written in ink or not. I hope you will show a photo.

  2. I like your commonplace book. I need an Italian book just like that. Well, perhaps I have too many.:)

    1. Oh, Kat, one can never have too many journals and notebooks. This Italian book is so lovely, I just leave it out on my desk and stroke the soft leather as I walk by.

  3. I've been keeping a commonplace book for years. It's a digital (electronic) commonplace book of quotations from the books and essays I've read each year for a certain several. I write a blog where I discuss some of them as part of a larger review and have published a few books on the topic. Write to me if you are interested in knowing more.

    Richard Katzev

    1. Thank you for your comments, Richard. I see from your website that you have been commonplacing for a while now and must have a wonderful collection of quotes and passages.

      I am sure it is probably easier to capture passages in a digital commonplace book since so many quotes and books are available online. A simple cut and paste and you are there!

      I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this topic. Thanks again for stopping by.