Commonplace Books

At the bookstore a few months ago I chanced upon an issue of Lapham's Quarterly. The periodical consists of a series of selections, largely but not exclusively historical on a single topic that have been drawn from previously written books, articles, essays, photos, etc. Nature was the theme of the issue I saw that night; other issues have dealt with Learning, War and Money. The latest issue, Volume II, Number 1, is devoted to Eros.

In a way, Lapham’s Quarterly constitutes a commonplace book. In most cases the selections are much longer than those commonly found in such a collection. I assume Lewis Lapham, the former editor of Harpers, has selected them based on his extensive reading history and no doubt a fair amount of current research.

Rosemary Friedman has recently published (2006) a very interesting commonplace book titled A Writer's Commonplace Book. In it she has organized a set of passages drawn from over 3,000 entries from her reading. She notes that originally she referred to her collection as Things. The volume is divided into the following topical chapters

Writers & Writing
Literary Endeavour
Discovery & Travel
Creativity and the Arts
The Human Condition
Love, Marriage & Family
Life & Death,
Random Thoughts

The author of each entry is cited, but not its source. None of the passages are annotated. But in all other respects it also appears to be a genuine commonplace book and a very interesting one, as well. It was published in the UK which is the case for almost all commonplace books that are in print.