Eastgate Systems      Serious Hypertext

Commonplace Book


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Table du Salon © 2005 by Jean-François BODART. Reproduced by permission of the author.

Today, if we want to refer to a book we once borrowed, we can generally count on finding it again in a library or a bookstore. In the 18th and 19th centuries, though, bookstores and libraries were far smaller; though a good book might cost (as it does now) no more than a good restaurant meal, stores and libraries were orders of magnitude smaller.

As a result, readers habitually copied out passages they wished to remember in a personal journal or commonplace book. The custom had the advantage of calling the reader's attention into intimate contact with those passages that appealed to them most intensely. By copying passages longhand, the reader gains time to reflect both on the meaning and the construction of their favorite works.

And, having copied the passages, you'll always have your copy. Though photocopiers and scanners mean we can easily make exact copies at trifling cost, copying striking passages can remain a valuable exercise and a rewarding activity. A collection of selected passages makes a wonderful intellectual portrait. Shared with friends and colleagues, it also helps focus discussion and provides much food for thought: a manager's commonplace book, placed online, can provide a superb tool for guiding organizational culture and strategy without imposing onerous and easily-resented training lectures or consultant interviews.