March 2011

How was your first week of Spring?

On Monday, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Color in the landscape!

On Tuesday, here at Chateau du Chat, we dared to feel a little enlivened by the sun, even a little spiffy.

On Wednesday, the temperature soared into the high 60’s. Made us feel frisky.

Made us want to get all toesy.

Made us want to shake of Winter’s hoary pall.


Made us want to cloak ourselves in the meadow’s joyous abundance and stuff.

And then it was Thursday, and we said the hell with it.


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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’.


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Last week I went to the Morgan Library to see an exhibit called The Diary, Three Centuries of Private Lives. It was all about diaries, some of them 300 years old.

You can’t take photos in the exhibit, except for sneaking a shot under the radar of the security guards.


The exhibit was exciting in that it had some fine examples of the art of keeping a diary. From Henry David Thoreau:

From the wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne:

From Paul Horgan (1903 – 1994) who carried notebooks with him wherever he went to allow him to capture ideas at the moment they arose. “Some of the notes are productive,” he later explained, “developing organically in a wonderful way. Others die and you don’t know why. They all seem fascinating at the moment.”

And Elizabeth Morgan, who kept her homemade diaries from 1818 to 1843, noting the small domestic details of her daily life as a genteel spinster in New England.

But the exhibit was drearily “interpreted” by a curator who felt the need to categorize the diaries — under such lumpen rubrics as War Diaries, Road Diaries, Shared Diaries, Spiritual Diaries, 1960s [???] Diaries — and, when those categories broke down (from their own reductivity (sp?)), she tossed in facsimiles, in the form of reproductions or published books(which, to me, shattered the whole immediacy of looking at a diary, the unmediated un-edited first-hand report of a life).

And, for some (or not) reason, the diaries of Charlotte Bronte and  Albert Einstein were left floating on their own, about which our docent-of-the-day was able to state the stunningly obvious: “Charlotte’s handwriting is minuscule“, and “Any mathematician today can read the equations that Einstein jotted down in his journal.”

Dear Readers, I am a connoisseur of The Diary. And  I  have just the diary for you. Meet me here next week.


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