Monday, January 19, 2015

My Commonplace Book

In my 2014 reading round-up post, I mentioned that last year I started keeping a Commonplace Book.  Today, I thought I'd give you a little glimpse of it.
First of all, though, perhaps a bit of explanation might be in order.  What is a Commonplace Book?  Laurie Bestvater describes it this way in her excellent book The Living Page:
"The Commonplace collects student-selected passages but from any and all reading on any and all subjects.  Mason also refers to it as a Reading Diary.  Though a Commonplace may contain student writing in the form of the odd character sketch or plot summary, it generally consists of other people's writing. Like a graduated form of the copybook, it is begun in earnest by the student at middle or high school age when his learning is becoming more and more under his own direction and, ideally, used throughout life….the syllabus instructs Form IV [high school aged students] to 'keep a Commonplace Book for passages that strike you particularly.' And likely students would have known exactly what was meant: a personalized notebook that crossed subjects and was meant to go with them everywhere as a dear companion and a record of their reading/learning."
~Laurie Bestvater, The Living Page, p.32-33
So really, it's just a book in which to jot down interesting quotes from your reading.  Charlotte Mason encouraged her older students to develop the habit during their school days with a goal of continuing as a lifelong practice.   I started mine last year in part because I hated to mark up my lovely, old, rare (expensive!) copy of Essex Cholmondely's The Story of Charlotte Mason, and in part because I do much of my reading on the Kindle.  While I do use the 'marks' feature frequently to highlight passages as I read, it doesn't have the same impact as highlighting and scribbling marginal notes in a real book.  Jotting those quotes and notes down in a separate notebook seemed a good solution to that little issue.
So here it is.  It's actually just a hardback composition book that I purchased during back-to-school season at one of the supermarkets in our city here in Africa.  I'd love to be able to have a really lovely, classy notebook for this purpose (someday…), but for now kinda-cutesy composition books will have to do. (I actually loved seeing some photos of one of Charlotte Mason's own Commonplace Books over at Afterthoughts last week…and was very gratified to see that she just used an ordinary composition book too.)  I do use a nice pen to write in it though:
Here's a peek inside:
And a closer up quote, a selection from Charlotte Mason's Ourselves (which is highly quotable by the way…lots of entries from the past couple months have come from this book.  I wonder if Charlotte ever dreamed that people would be Commonplacing her words?) :
And that's it.  It's pretty simple.  I don't tend to put much other than direct quotes, other than occasionally a sentence or two to explain the context if that seems necessary.  I've found this to be a wonderfully helpful practice.  Taking the time to stop and write out by hand the interesting or beautiful or thought-provoking passage from a book has caused me to reflect and retain more than just reading and marking in the book.   Looking back over previous entries jogs those memories too.   It also forces me to slow down and read more carefully rather than just rush right through, something that is right in line with my reading goals for this coming year.
I'm sharing this post over at Celeste's new Keeping Company link-up at Joyous LessonsClick on over and check it out for more 'Keeping' inspiration!


  1. Nice, Jen. I've never seen a book with lines like that. I'm curious about the rationale and how one follows which lines?

  2. This kind of grid paper was really common in France, and therefore is really common here in Africa too. It actually really drives me crazy...too many lines...but it's hard to find plain lined paper. It might have something to do with the way they teach handwriting in French schools...but I'm not really sure why. :)

  3. Lovely! I'm the opposite I guess... I have a very nice notebook but I use whatever junky pen is around. :P It will usually have my bank's name on it. And it is so fun to reread those quotes I've written, I'm finding mine is truly becoming a reading companion.

  4. Loved seeing this peek into yours, Jen. Mine is very no-frills too (I do have a moleskine, but it's one of their softcover ones and feels very simple), but I find that makes me less concerned about taking it along with me and marking it up. ;)

  5. I think all those lines would distract me too but having a decent pen is my biggest help. I always write more neatly if my pen writes smoothly.