The commonplace book has a long history dating back to Greek antiquity; the Greeks used commonplaces as a collection of quotes or ideas from lectures, books, arguments, and from other liberal arts based instructions. Over time, the commonplace has expanded into a more personally based collection of quotes. Commonplacing is a habit, a tool even, that answers the question of why we are reading. There are many different ways to develop, organize, and maintain a commonplace; however, I believe that there are five main reasons to start a commonplace.
- It Records Where We’ve Been. Quotes are not the only collection kept in the commonplace; the titles, authors, and sometimes dates are also recorded along side of the quotes. This gives the keeper a record or a road map of their travels which allows for the keeper to make connections between events in their life and what they were collecting. A commonplace offers a introspective view of our younger selves.
- It is a Collection Of Knowledge. Whether the keeper is writing down fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, there is a collection of knowledge. All of the beautiful language, the ideas, the themes are there for our minds to meditate upon. At some point, it becomes impossible for the keeper not to share or imitate the collections assisting in the embodiment of obvious truths.
- It is Discerning. Commonplaces are filled with quotes that have sparked an interest in the keeper; the keeper is taking the time to read and write this quote down, so there is a value attached to the quote. The commonplace over time identifies quotes that are timeless full of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. There will also be quotes that lack Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. When a high quality quote is placed next to a lesser quality quote, the keeper can see by comparison where the Beauty, Truth, and Goodness reside. The keeper will respond by finding and evaluating texts that embody a higher level of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Over the long term, the commonplace becomes filled with more and more virtue and less frivolous quotes.
- It Creates an Active Reader. In order to find the quotes, the keeper has to slow down. The keeper has to enter into the story as well as the structure of the text. This slow deep reading forces the keeper to evaluate why he is reading and for the quality of the text. Garnering information especially meaningful quotes, the reader must evaluate the Beauty, the Truth, and the Goodness while they are reading. Marks, underlines, circles, color highlights, and margin writing within a text assist the keeper in noticing what to commonplace.
- It Focuses on the Greater Conversation. The commonplace is not a journal entry. No commentary accompanies the quotes. The quote stands alone out of the context of the larger work not to lessen the meaning but to enhance the relationship between the keeper and his life. Leaving the commentary for a journal or blog, allows the keeper to re-visit the quote without a distraction of original context. A commonplace is meant for longevity, so it is assumed the keeper will go back and re-visit these collections through time. The commonplace takes the focus off of the self and into the greater conversation. That greater conversation being education. The commonplace is a collection entirely focused on cultivating the humanity of the keeper which in time seeps into the culture surrounding the keeper.