Often, when someone asks me on a Monday how my weekend was, I panic. Weekend? What weekend? Was there a weekend? I frantically wrack my brain trying to remember anything I did two days ago, even yesterday, so I don’t look like a complete and utter moron.
The point of this sad little tale is to let you know my memory can be a little lax. I have a great memory for some things, but when I specifically want to remember something I occasionally find my brain as empty as any bag of M&M’s that was ever sat in front of me.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Books have always been treasures, from the time I used them to stay up later by keeping my mom reading away next to me in bed, until now when I keep myself awake reading deep into the night.
Since I want to hold onto this treasure and the memories of what I read, years ago I started keeping a journal to squirrel away quotes, facts, vocabulary, ridiculosities, poetry, and my thoughts on whatever book I was reading at the time.
I now have eleven of these journals filled with hundreds and hundreds of titles and information I’ve hoarded. Of course I’m not alone in this. Perhaps you do the same. And since at least the early 1700’s, people have kept what are known as commonplace books, a way to compile knowledge, recipes, quotes, poems, etc. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were taught to keep commonplace books at Harvard University. The writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mark Twain, and Thomas Hardy also kept these journals.
These books are precious to me. I pore over them often and remember. They make up, in a way, a large volume of my own reading experience, a map of the places my mind has visited over the years. An explanation for what in the bloody blazes I do with so much of my time.
And without them I wouldn’t remember things like this fine quote: I have sought rest everywhere, and have found it nowhere, save in a little corner, with a little book. – Thomas a Kempis
I’m reading “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman for my book club. I’m also reading “A Girl in Winter,” an oldie by Philip Larkin, and “Landscape Painted with Tea,” by Milorad Pavic. This last book is also an older one that I discovered on the sale book shelf at the library. It’s interesting. I wasn’t familiar with this author. He’s compared to Nabokov, Pynchon, Borges, Chandler, Barthes and even the Marx Brothers. The book is playful. It’s weird. So far I’m truly enjoying it, and I’ll write down the following two snippets from it in my current commonplace book:
(This quote is from a point in the book where the protagonist’s son is criticizing him.) “‘On days liked this even snakes that have venom only on Fridays become poisonous,’ Atanas Svilar thought, listening to his son, to the boy who still adored grapes hot from the sun and ripe apricots in which you could almost feel the jam simmering on the branch in the heat.”
“When they set out from Ithaca for the Ionian Islands, he placed a glass of wine on the railing of the ship and held the stem down with his finger so that it would not overturn. The red wine in the glass, out of solidarity with the briny sea, faithfully transmitted every move of the water. In the glass he now had a copy of the waves.”