The “Commonplace” Book… The true Pensieve.
Okay… it has been a verrrrrrry long time since I have posted. I could give the usual blather about being so busy, etc – and it would be true, but does anyone really care. No, they don’t.
So onward then. Today’s topic: The commonplace book and how to make and use one.
The Definition: A Commonplace Book was/is a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. 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 scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.
Sounds like the internet, or a note taking feature on your phone. The difference is that if you drop your commonplace book in the bathtub, you dry it off and move on…not so much with your phone.
The truth is, the commonplace book is a real life thing that collects and stores your memories in a way that actually reflects you and your personality – it is, in a real sense, the pensieve of the Harry Potter Stories. By reading the commonplace book of a thinking man or woman who may be long dead, you will in fact be transported into their thoughts, time, and ways of thinking. You will be holding in your hands a physical object they in fact once owned, and wrote perhaps things more intimate than anywhere else except within their own minds. If your are sensitive enough, then for the briefest moment you will be them – just like the pensieve of Harry Potter, well… perhaps not quite as magical.
The fact is, when you write with your hand using a pencil or pen on paper… something magical happens that is just not the same as when you “type” it or speak it into a recorder. When you sketch ideas, while describing the scraps and tidbits of your thoughts, poems, etc. you create something that is more than just a book of notes – you create a part of yourself.
The reason, of course, lies in the way the book is put together – it is not chronological, in fact you may write things on any page at any time. you might stick things in the book like a real scrap book as well (although it is supposed to be portable so you can take it with you, you probably want to put “thin” things in it). Typically commonplace books use headings and are sectioned, but the fact about them is that they are supposed to represent your own memories.
Susan Wise Bauer (A historian)–in her book The Well-Educated Mind: A guide to the classical education you never had–describes them as “artificial memories,” says this about keeping such a book:
When we sit in front of Plato or Shakespeare or Conrad, “simple reading” isn’t enough. We must learn to fix our minds, to organize our reading so that we are able to retain the skeleton of ideas that pass in front of our eyes….How is this done? By keeping a journal to organize your thoughts about your reading. What we write, we remember. What we summarize in our own words becomes our own.
I could not say that better, so I didn’t. In fact I bold faced stole this from another bloggers article about commonplace books that you can read here.
By the way, when those who practice the magical arts (witches, wiccans, wizards (oh my), sorcerers, etc.) make a commonplace book, it is usually termed a “book of shadows” or perhaps a “grimoire” – albeit a rather unorganized one perhaps…
So here are some pictures of some real commonplace books… then we will discuss ways in which to make our our own.