My commonplace book: January 2016

commonplace book
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary


A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.


I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)


Roger had learned from Mr. Gray that this particular kind of rhododendron was called Ponticum, so the secret hiding-place was called Ponticum House. It was used for all sorts of activities and gradually it was furnished with odds and ends of furniture.

Amberwell by D.E. Stevenson (1955)


There was the rub: that Julia, who could get intimate with a trapeze artist after five minutes’ conversation – who was intimate with a salesman after buying a pair of shoes – had talked for an hour to her own daughter, about the girl’s own father and lover, without the least intimacy at all.

“I’m a fool,” thought Julia, again. “It’s just because she’s such a perfect lady. And what I need is a good sleep.”

The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp (1937)


So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea. A steamer far out at sea had drawn in the air a great scroll of smoke which stayed there curving and circling decoratively, as if the air were a fine gauze which held things and kept them softly in its mesh, only gently swaying them this way and that.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)


Come, Joanna. I can wait no longer.

There it was, Henry’s declaration, as clear as my reflection in my mirror. Neither, I decided, could I wait.

I sent for my uncle of Burgundy. I had an urgent negotiation to undertake.

The Queen’s Choice by Anne O’Brien (2016)


Meantime, all around me is violence and robbery, coarse delight and savage pain, reckless joke and hopeless death. Is it any wonder that I cannot sink with these, that I cannot so forget my soul, as to live the life of brutes, and die the death more horrible because it dreams of waking? There is none to lead me forward, there is none to teach me right; young as I am, I live beneath a curse that lasts for ever.

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore (1869)


“It is the women who lay clothes to dry on the rooftops of Troy,” I continued. “It is the fishermen who catch the silver fish in the bay,” I gestured out over the plain towards the sea, sparkling blue in the sunlight, “and sell them on the stalls of the marketplace. It is the princes who live in the palaces on the windy heights of the city, and the slaves who draw water from the wells. This, my king – this is Troy. And if we act now, we may still be able to save our city before it is too late.”

For the Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser (2016)


The desolation struck me like a blow, fresh and painful, as if all this destruction had been newly made yesterday, and as if this were my first sight of it. It was grief, I think, nothing more or less. I knew it was absurd. But I had noticed this reaction in others as well as in myself: that we mourned for our ravaged city as if for a mother.

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor (2016) – Review to follow


“And you cannot move at all in Time, you cannot get away from the present moment.”

“My dear sir, that is just where you are wrong. That is just where the whole world has gone wrong. We are always getting away from the present moment. Our mental existences, which are immaterial and have no dimensions, are passing along the Time-Dimension with a uniform velocity from the cradle to the grave. Just as we should travel down if we began our existence fifty miles above the earth’s surface.”

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)


Favourite books this month: Lorna Doone and Amberwell

17 thoughts on “My commonplace book: January 2016

    • Helen says:

      I appreciate the quality of the writing in Wide Sargasso Sea and To the Lighthouse, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading either of those books, which is why I have chosen two others as my favourites of the month. I’m sure you’re correct that Rhys and Woolf are rich in subtext and reward close-reading, but their writing styles don’t really appeal to me and I personally got more pleasure from most of the other books I’ve read this month.

      • camilledefleurville says:

        Light, comfortable, cosy reading: nothing against it – I read them myself. But I do not put themon the same footing as the two other ones and do not cite them in the same breath. But as we say in French, “chacun ses goรปts”

    • Helen says:

      I received a review copy of the Andrew Taylor book, but it should be available in early April. I don’t think it’s his best, but I did enjoy it.

  1. calmgrove says:

    Blogs are ideal as 21st-century equivalents of the traditional commonplace book, which — if I remember rightly — came into being in the late 15th-century as an educated middle class began to rise with new economic power and literacy taken for granted.

    • Helen says:

      That’s interesting. I knew they were a popular pastime in the 18th and 19th centuries but I wasn’t aware that they dated from so much earlier than that. But yes, a blog is the perfect modern day equivalent!

      • calmgrove says:

        As a musician I’d discovered that a famous mystical carol, the so-called Corpus Christi Carol, was first noted in a 15C English commonplace book, which is what drew my attention to them in the first place. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Kate's Bookshelf says:

    I have yet to read “To The Lighthouse”, but in an instant, I knew it was Virginia Woolf. I love this idea of keeping quotes and tidbits from books or poetry. I might get carried away, but I love to keep things like this. Usually I put them in my journal, at the top of the page, or in the margins. Lovely list. I look forward to reading more. And I think i must see what The Nutmeg Tree is about.

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