January 20, 2010

My Commonplace Book

A commonplace book is, according to Wikipedia, a compilation of knowledge gathered into a book. When I moved to Vermont in 1994, I began to collect quotes that I found interesting, along with notes on my non-fiction reading, in a pale yellow papered notebook. I wrote some notes on bits of paper that I had at hand at the time, others I copied directly into the book. I soon became less rigorous in my notetaking and abandoned the book.

Because of my blogging, I pulled the notebook out from the shelf recently, using it to record quotes from the filmmaker Abbas Kiorostami, who I wrote about here. I went back through the book, finding quotes I'd used for lectures on my painting:
"When tillage begins, the other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization" Daniel Webster, 1840.

"I think what one should do is write in an ordinary way and make the writing seem extraordinary. One should write, too, about what is ordinary, and see the extraordinary behind it." Jean Rhys, in Difficult Women by David Plante.

"Pavements, holes, trenches, mounds, heaps, paths, ditches, roads, terraces, etc, all have an aesthetic potential." Robert Smithson, from his article "The Monuments of Passaic", Artforum, December 1967.
It was a joy to rediscover these ideas and to go over some of my other notes. So I've re-started my commonplace book, gathering phrases that I'd like to have at hand. Some recent gems:
"...the world is neither significant nor absurd. It 'is', quite simply. That, in any case, is the most remarkable thing about it." Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel, 1963.

"You must find your own quiet center of life and write from that." Sarah Orne Jewett, in a letter to Willa Cather, quoted in Willa Cather: a Critical Biography, by E.K. Brown.

"...after seventy, when you have lived out your life, you begin another." from Margaret Oliphant's novel Hester.
From the blog Each Little World, a poem by Matsuo Basho, posted today, with beautiful photographs:
Winter Solitude –
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.
Also today, picking up Samuel Beckett's trilogy of novels (I'd just seen the film of "Waiting for Godot" and wondered if I would be interested in reading these), I noticed this beautiful sentence, now recorded in my commonplace book, where I can retrieve it easily:
"To restore silence is the role of objects."


  1. Lovely sharing. i learn from you, Altoon.

  2. I try to keep learning, Maggie, to keep the brain active and life interesting.

  3. Quotes are great. The one I keep pasted to my desk is:
    "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    Sometimes I'm not sure if we're making progress.

  4. A wonderful and timely quote, Cheryl. I feel discouraged right now as to our progress on this.

  5. I have a commonplace book as well; one that I've been adding to on and off for ages. Sometimes they are political, poetic, about nature, from movies and books; a bit of everything. I recently added this one:

    "We did not all come on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat." (Bernard Baruch)

  6. thanks for the Baruch quote, Linda, which I've added to my book. Would that we all lived by that sentiment, as well as that of FDR.