Using a pocket notebook - 6. Commonplace books

by Stuart Lennon
The Commonplace Notebook

Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from antiquity, and were kept particularly during the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator's particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler's responses. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

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I have, as an experiment, been using this excellent book from Waverley as a commonplace book. It is much larger than my usual everyday carry, to the extent that it’s tough to sit on. It has alternate ruled and blank pages, positively encouraging me to draw sketches. The book lasted me 10 weeks. I would usually go through 5 Field Notes style books in that time.

Effectively, I used the commonplace exactly as I do any other notebook. There are lists, musings during a quiz, and yes, from time to time a thought or observation. There is definite advantage to the longer use-life. I seldom refer back in my notebooks, as the thing I am looking for is almost certainly in a different book, in archive. In the commonplace though, I was able to look up previous notes.

Every Day Carry

However, the portability is an issue for me. Particularly in the summer, where I am looking to keep everything as light as possible, a big chunky notebook is an outlier. If I were commuting in colder climes and carrying a bag, I could see it working for me.

The Hardware

The Waverley is a fantastically well-made notebook, with good paper and beautiful tartan covers. With one in my hand, I instantly feel more Scottish and more literary. Amanda, Scrib and Stu have all reviewed these books positively.

Next week - hybrid systems.