What’s a commonplace book, you ask?

A commonplace book is a book that contains copied text from a variety of sources, categorized or indexed or otherwise organized to suit your needs. The term “commonplace” refers to the space in your brain that corresponds to these topics you’ve identified. These are the places in your mind that you like to visit.

Commonplace books are not a thing of the past! I’m bringing them back: go see what’s out there on my Pinterest board.

There are so many ways to keep one. Here’s an idea for commonplacing with sticky notes:

If you are at all like me, and you find yourself reading lots of books but not taking the time to do anything with them afterwards, then you might try this method. It’s simple: as you read, jot your notes onto sticky notes. It’s a particularly practical strategy if it is a book you can’t–or won’t–write in.










I do this all the time with books that I’m reading for school or book reviews, and when I’m done reading I have a bunch of notes that can be removed and arranged on a table or wall. (Beware sticking all of your precious notes on a wall, though, if there is any risk that someone will run by. Wind can be lethal to your note arrangement. I know this.)

Notes can be arranged by topic, and either added directly to a notebook page, or transcribed. There is so much flexibility with this system, and it is so simple to keep a pencil and notepad handy while you read.

I picked up a book on my desk I reviewed for a class a year or so ago, with the idea of taking a photo as an example for this commonplacing strategy, and I’m amused that the page I opened up to was the moss sperm page. The book, Gathering Moss: ANatural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, became a high-ranking member of my collection after reading. My note refers to the amazing skill she has in writing an entire chapter about moss sex, and succeeding in writing not only a clear depiction (complete with botanically-correct drawings) but a compelling narrative of evolution and pond life. The way she writes about mosses has intrigued me, and I’m currently working some of my new moss knowledge information into an essay.

4 thoughts on “What’s a commonplace book, you ask?

  1. Pingback: Follow the topic trail | Ivy Rutledge

  2. Pingback: 19th century asylums: a reading list | Ivy Rutledge

join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s