My Commonplace Book: May 2017

A selection of words and pictures to represent May’s reading

My Commonplace Book

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

Collins English Dictionary


When you are young you are too busy with yourself – so Caroline thought – you haven’t time for ordinary little things, but, when you leave youth behind, your eyes open and you see magic and mystery all around you: magic in the flight of a bird, the shape of a leaf, the bold arch of a bridge against the sky, footsteps at night and a voice calling in the darkness, the moment in a theatre before the curtain rises, the wind in the trees, or (in winter) an apple-branch clothed with pure white snow and icicles hanging from a stone and sparkling with rainbow colours.

Vittoria Cottage by DE Stevenson (1949)


Mata Hari

“Tell me where you learned to dance.”

“Java.” I paint the picture for him. Gamelan orchestras playing in the night. White orchids floating in private pools. Parties so lavish the queen of Holland might have attended. “There was a woman who danced at these affairs. Mahadevi.” I describe how she taught me to dance and I can see him struggling to decide whether or not I’m telling the truth. But he doesn’t say anything. He must believe me.

Mata Hari by Michelle Moran (2016)


She loved her country, Botswana, which is a place of peace, and she loved Africa, for all its trials. I am not ashamed to be called an African patriot, said Mma Ramotswe. I love all the people whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place. They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (1998)


With a conscious effort, he brought his focus back to the present. He had decided long ago that dwelling on the past was for fools. You could not go back and change your actions, so why go over and over your mistakes in your memory? Because he was a fool. A sentimental fool, who was getting old. He smiled at the thought.

The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy (2015)


Possible portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.

How else to explain the chaos strewn in our wake, the ravaged lives, the sacrificed innocence and spilled blood? How else to justify the unexpected trajectory of my own life, forever wandering the labyrinth of my family’s ruthless design?

There can be no other reason. Infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood.

It is the price of being a Borgia.

The Vatican Princess by CW Gortner (2016)


“So I ask you,” said the boy. “Here I am on this rock. Am I the same boy as the one on land? Do the same codes apply if you’re wholly, entirely alone?”

The Winter Isles by Antonia Senior (2015)


Below her, gentle flower filled gardens sloped down to the lake in three terraces, with paths, steps and benches strategically placed between the three. The lake itself was the most gloriously shining silver she’d ever seen. All memory of the previous day’s car journey, with its terrifying hairpin bends, deep ravines, and nauseating bumps, was instantly washed away. Rising up behind the lake, and surrounding it, was a tapestry of green velvet, the tea bushes as symmetrical as if they’d been stitched in rows, where women tea pickers wore eye-catching brightly coloured saris, and looked like tiny embroidered birds who had stopped to peck.

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies (2015)


House of Atreus family tree

I know as no one else knows that the gods are distant, they have other concerns. They care about human desires and antics in the same way that I care about the leaves of a tree. I know the leaves are there, they wither and grow again and wither, as people come and live and then are replaced by others like them. There is nothing I can do to help them or prevent their withering. I do not deal with their desires.

House of Names by Colm Tóibín (2017)


The gift of independence once granted cannot be lightly taken away again.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)


I sit up straight and clasp my hands, my heart soaring at the thought of it, to see London; to pass through these walls, to be free. “From my window I often think I should dearly love to sprout wings and rise above the rooftops and see beyond the buildings, the city and the river. I should like to see whence the moon rises. I want to go where the sun sets.”

Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull (2015)


Fumata nera (black smoke) from the Sistine Chapel

Conclave. From the Latin, con clavis: ‘with a key’. Since the thirteenth century, this was how the Church had ensured its cardinals would come to a decision. They would not be released from the chapel, except for meals and to sleep, until they had chosen a Pope.

Conclave by Robert Harris (2016)


Favourite books read in May: The Tea Planter’s Wife, Song of the Sea Maid and Conclave

9 thoughts on “My Commonplace Book: May 2017

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    What a month you had! I am interested in Mata Hari. Also I am going to start reading Robert Harris soon, beginning at his beginning as I like to do. Love the image of the Vatican smoke from Conclave.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you’ll like Robert Harris as much as I do. I’ve started with some of his most recent books, but am looking forward to exploring his earlier novels. The Mata Hari book was interesting but my least favourite so far by Michelle Moran.

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    Some really interesting and beautiful quotes this month – I particularly like ‘The gift of independence once granted cannot be lightly taken away again’ from I, Claudius. I wish you more good reading in June 🙂

  3. FictionFan says:

    A good month of reading! The quote from House of Names stands out to me – I do love Toibin’s writing even if this book wasn’t one of my favourites of his…

  4. cirtnecce says:

    What a lovely collection! You have read some awesome books through the month! I love No.1 Ladies Detective Series and I think Botswana come alive in the hands of Mr. McCall Smith. I have read practically everything written by Michelle Moran but have to get to Mata Hari; I think the subject kind of held me back…don’t ask me why. I think I will get hold of Vatican Princess…I am very intrigued!

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think Mata Hari is one of Michelle Moran’s better books, but I did still find it interesting. I’m glad you love the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books – I have only read the first one but I’m sure I’ll be reading more of them eventually. 🙂

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