My visit last week to the Morgan Library in mid-town Manhattan reminded me that I made one of my most meaningful connections in the old gift shop there.
To be precise, it was September 21, 1998 and I was browsing through the post cards when my fancy was caught by a fetching blank book. It was a paperback, 8-inch square, and the size just delighted me.
I bought the one that was for sale, and then tracked down the manufacturer in Connecticut and persuaded them to sell me a dozen more.
It’s been my Commonplace Book of Choice ever since.
A “Commonplace” is a translation of the Latin term locus communis which means “a theme or argument of general application”, such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. 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 humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.
I’ve been keeping Commonplace Books since I was 19 years old.
And, ever since 1998, these 8″ x 8″ notebooks have been my dear Commonplace books.
This is from my collection of Thrift Shop Book Dust Covers With Fabulous Author Photos!
Another great Author Photo from the past — Mary Stewart, above, pictured in Edinburgh with her cat. On the facing page are my notes from Stephen King’s great book about writing, On Writing: Write what you love to read. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationship, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do.
Looking good, Mr. Theroux, on the back cover of World’s End. (Ah, those were the days, when an Author Photo took up the whole back cover.)
In 2003 I saw this ad for shirts, and I kept it thinking that I’d be able to use it some day, for something or other. I haven’t yet, but it still inspires me.
A lot of my Commonplace books are filled with notes from great books I’ve read.
I love these notebooks so much that I designed my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, in their exact size — 8 inches by 8 inches. But because I didn’t leave enough room on the margins for the printing process the book had to be done in a 9-inch by 8-inch format.
I have two brand new notebooks to give away today, because I love these books and I’m pretty fond of the readers of this blog, too.
All you have to do is leave a Comment and be either the 1,545th Commentor orthe 1,560th Commentor (East Coast! West Coast! Overseas! This is your chance!), and I’ll send you your new Commonplace Book with my fondest wishes for many happy hours of readin’ and writin’.