Commonplace Books

A Collection of Channels is a series highlighting channels we’re paying attention to on

The commonplace book is a style of notebooking with roots in the Enlightenment era, whereby aspiring writers and thinkers logged and indexed the best quotes and insights from their reading. Locke, Emerson, and Auden are among the famous practitioners of the format.

Robert Darnton describes the practice in The Case for Books:

Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.

On the web, this kind of logging has expanded to images, video, audio, and full-length PDFs. Some users, however, still maintain more traditional “commonplace” channels, collecting the best text fragments from books, essays, articles, advertisements, and copy.

David XLVRS's "Excerpts" includes quotes from the theory of Baudrillard and Guattari, the science fiction of Samuel Delany, and interviews with Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo.

In "words quotes poems advice" Elisha Cohen features startup advice from Patrick Meckenzie, scanned pages from Sendak's Open House for Butterflies, and wisdom from Barry Gillespie.

In "TXT" Luke Harris collects quotes from a mix of authors and philosophers, alongside excerpts from the Devil's Dictionary and other pieces of found text.

John Michael Boling's "Killer Quotes" mixes high and low, switching from Socrates to the dialogue of Homeland's Abu Nazir.

Brandon Wilner's "Epigraph Library" collects "great epigraphs or those that might be," from thinkers like John Berger, Georges Bataille, and Virginia Woolf.

Csaba Osvath's entire profile consists of thematic commonplacing, with channels channels to specific books and subjects. In "Sacred Economics," Osvath meanders from Tolstoy to Roman History and the 2008 recession to trace a history of our relationship with property and wealth.