Pick of the Press this weekend, Ben Macintyre in The Times writing about The Commonplace Book.
I had seen but not really paid too much attention to a book out at the moment, Extracts from the Red Notebooks by Matthew Engel.The cover is a repro of those Silvine red exercise books that have been around forever, with your maths tables and avoirdupois weights and measures on the back cover in the olden days.
Matthew Engel began to write down one-liners and conversation snippets from TV programmes, newspapers, books etc, things that caught his attention over the years.His son Laurie unwittingly made many contributons as he grew up and until he sadly died at the age of 13 from a rare form of cancer in 2005.
Now published and raising money for a cancer charity laurieengelfund.org and a website that will break your heart but you'll hear the message loud and clear.
Ben Macintyre ponders the whole genre of the Commonplace Book tracing its existence back to 5BC and of course to here in Devon had he but known. I realise I’ve been keeping such things on and off since childhood (which was a bit later than 5BC)
My earliest efforts are scrapbooks full of cuttings, tickets, souvenirs, programmes, birthday cards and all applied to the page with generous helpings of Gloy.
Gloy was a revolting essence of rendered cow in a bottle with a red angled tip with a slit through which the glue was supposed to be evenly distributed. It was child-defying and Gloy never worked like this for me.Once you'd overcome the dried-up nozzle applying an inordinate amount of unyielding presssure, Gloy would suddenly be delivered by the gallon.I still have my scrapbook of the Tokyo Olympics and as I recall that great picture of Lynn Davis in aerial mid-flight winning the long jump gold, but enhanced with a very indelicately placed blob of Gloy. I think the same thing happened to David Hemery in my Mexico Olympics scrapbook.I have these collections in all shapes and sizes, one an old stamp album that I commandeered for a year or so.
I’ve never really lost the art of this odd accumulating of memories and was still doing it, though on a smaller scale, for my reading journals using Chatwin-esque Moleskine notebooks until the blog came along, so I was delighted to find that Ben Macintyre views the art of the blog as a sort of Commonplace Book with some reservations.
“Every blog after all is a sort of commonplace book, with items culled from elsewhere, reassembled and subjected to vigorous commentary along the way.
Today literature is usually a commodity to be consumed and forgotten, not a resource to be combed, gathered and preserved. But the act of writing out a treasured nugget is different from cutting and pasting an electronic lump.The commonplace book fixes time and memory. Write down something that strikes you, and there is a chance that you will remember why and when it struck:it is a diary at one remove”
I think I have almost established a commonplace blog and certainly all my book reviews now go on here instead of in my journal but I must find the time to revive a handwritten commonplace book, it is an irreplaceable and necessary bit of me.
Meanwhile a little quote from one of mine and this found carved onto a memorial seat in Cambridge during a visit in 2003 and what a perfect way for the friends of Lesley Mary Tomlinson 1973-2000 to remember her
"She stepped softly, firmly and passionately and left many a lasting imprint"