I write down many things as I read. One of my commonplace books is pictured above. They are wonderful friends who have been with me for many years.
If you are not familiar with a commonplace book, listen to this description by Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton and consider using one yourself!:
Last week I began a new feature on this blog that I am calling “From My Commonplace Book.” A commonplace book is a journal in which you record favorite quotes from what you are reading, and sometimes the thoughts that they evoke. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, it was not uncommon for students to be required to keep a commonplace book, and many of the leading lights of the American revolutionary generation did so. I’ve been doing so now for more than a year, selecting quotes that help me to think through my calling as a Christian, historian, and teacher.
I could type them on my laptop, but I like the idea of writing the quotes out by hand. For one thing, it heightens the sense that I am following in the footsteps of those who have gone before me. We live in a present-tense society that dismisses 94 percent of all the human beings who have ever drawn breath on this planet simply because they are no longer living. When I sit down to my commonplace book with pen in hand, I am self-consciously engaging in a countercultural act. It’s a symbolic gesture but no less important for that. It helps me, imaginatively, to think of myself as entering into a grand conversation about enduring questions, something far bigger than the transient fads and obsessions that so easily steal the best days of our lives.
Writing the quotes out by hand also forces me to slow down, and that in itself is a countercultural act as well. By lingering over a passage and recording it with painstaking care, I am symbolically setting it apart from the ocean of information that inundates me daily. Much of that information may be valuable, but the passages that go into my commonplace book are life-changing.
I very much agree with this approach. I have used a similar method for many years. And yes, by all means, throw out your yellow highlighter! Get something more elegant. I like a red pencil along with a fine, black pen for marginal notes.
In the previous post I interviewed Dave Mahan on poetry. Dave mentioned a formative teacher in Peter Hawkins. Here is a short video where Hawkins talks about a number of things, but I want to draw your attention to “careful reading” and really falling in love with great texts.
From 2013 to 2016, print revenue climbed 5 percent, while e-book sales dropped 17 percent in 2016 alone. As the story put it, “Book publishers are giving an advance review of the industry’s future, and it looks a lot like the past.”
I read quite a bit of history which puts me in touch with lots of dead people.
It struck me that those who don’t read history, but mainly surf the Net or watch TV for the latest “news” of the day, are not confronted enough with important truths like one’s mortality. Everyone for the most part they come in contact is alive. It’s a big disadvantage to be mostly in touch with living people.
“I find that poetry helps. You can’t zoom through poetry; it forces you to slow down, think, concentrate, relish words and phrases. I now try to begin each day with a selection from George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or R. S. Thomas.”
The rest is below (HT: Thomas Kidd’s email letter)
I came up with “Moore’s Law of Literature” about a year ago.
It is quite simple, and so far, always accurate.
Here’s how it works. I take the total number of pages a book has, so in the case of The Last Days of Socrates by Plato, we have 183. I divide this by 2 so 91.5. If the total of my marginal notes exceeds 91.5 then it is a formative book. In the case of The Last Days of Socrates I made 102 marginal notes.
Fortunately, even the modern books I’ve read this past year have all passed the test. If I went back over a lifetime of reading there would be many books that would not.