All my heart and soul goes out to the people of Japan. The scale of the destruction there is impossible for me to understand — I’m still trying to process it, to put it some dimension that I can grasp. And I beg the pardon of all those who are suffering for going ahead with my regularly scheduled molehill stuff. Meaning: Cat Story!
Top Cat cleaned out the cars this weekend — daylight savings time puts him in the mood for automotive ship-shaping.
So he took the floor pads out of the hybrid Toyota and shampooed them and left them out in the sunshine to dry.
And of course, he had help from the wild, fierce, totally untamed backyard cats:
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 began to keep Commonplace Books since I was 19 years old and read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time — I thought the writing was so wonderful that I copied pages of it out, word for word. And then I just kept up with the habit. Every time I’d read something that was beautifully written, I’d copy it out. It gave me a very detailed appreciation for a good sentence.
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, 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 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.
On the facing page is a New York Magazine article about Rupert Holmes (who wrote and recorded one of my favorite songs from the early 1980s — Him). Holmes had just written his first novel at age 56, but the article was more about his fame as the composer of The Pina Colada song of 1979; however, Holmes discusses the death of his young daughter: “After my daughter’s death, I read the Bible in every translation, I read great Catholic thinking and Jewish writers, and I got no help out of anything,” he says. Sitting numb in a room one day, he was watching a rerun of the Mary Tyler Moore show. “Someone dais something very funny and I laughed. that’s when it dawned n me that if some comedy writer was capable of giving me better hope for my survival than the Gospel of John, then maybe it’s not a bad thing to divert people — to make them laugh.”
This is something that I read just a couple of months ago: By nature, narrative nonfiction utilizes the same organizational elements as fiction, including character, fore shadowing, and flashback. Travel writing is, of any genre of nonfiction save memoir, the most similar to fiction. You have an experience that is both intensely personal and, usually, frustratingly unformed, and you have to turn it into a narrative. (Tom Bissell, award-winning writer)
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’.
And by the way, anybody got a favorite passage from a Great Book they’d like to share?