Monday, June 24, 2013

Commonplace Books

Book by Book: Notes on Reading and LifeBook by Book: 
Notes on Reading and Life 
by Michael Dirda

“'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss: in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakeably meant for his ear.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a fascination, interest, perhaps passion in which I indulge my eclectic interests. The commonplace book seems to suit my peripatetic mind. It is a writer's personal collection of quotations, observations, and topic ideas. Called florilegia ("flowers of reading") in the Middle Ages, commonplace books were especially popular during the Renaissance and into the 18th century. For some writers, blogs serve as contemporary versions of commonplace books. The classic is Auden's A Certain World which was the first commonplace book that I discovered almost forty years ago. It was a very personal anthology that included adages, short excerpts, poems, and more. Auden organized it alphabetically by categories with his own comments included in some, always brief, as a record of his own thoughts.
My favorite commonplace book is Michael Dirda's own contribution, Book By Book. It is a book-lover's delight and has led me down many trails that I visit and revisit. He shares his personal thoughts about books in a topical way with chapters on "Work and Leisure", "The Book of Love", "Matters of the Spirit", and "Last Things".  My favorite sections include "The Interior Library" where he recommends an eclectic mix of reading aimed at getting you away from the bestseller list (never a problem for me) and into a wide variety of books including fantasy fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and intellectual history (the last is a favorite of mine).  I also enjoyed "The Pleasures of Learning" where he discusses a foundation of great books (Homer, et. al.) and both books and methods of education.  He even includes a chapter, "Sight s and Sounds", that focuses on art and music.  It is likely his personal music recommendations include a few of your favorites.  Through all his recommendations he includes valuable pithy sayings on which you may choose to meditate.
While Dirda recommends Auden, of course and Cyril Connolly's An Unquiet Grave; I have taken up the challenge of one of my favorite authors, D. J. Enright. So it is with delight that I am exploring, slowly savoring, his own " kind of a commonplace book", Interplay. It is here that I will be able to meditate on the pleasures of reading, mulling both thoughts and words - perhaps cogitating some new ones of my own.

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