My Commonplace Book: October 2019

A selection of words and pictures to represent October’s reading:

commonplace book
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.


This is one of the troubles and the wonders of childhood: you imagine things wrongly. And later, when the truth is known – assuming there is an absolute truth – the unwinding of the imagined thing is tangled, because the first image keeps on obstinately breaking through. You’re adrift in mystery and ambiguity.

Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain (2018)


The art of the murderer, my dear Maurot, is the same as the art of the magician. And the art of the magician does not lie in any such nonsense as “the hand is quicker than the eye”, but consists simply in directly your attention to the wrong place. He will cause you to be watching one hand, while with the other hand, unseen though in full view, he produces his effect. That is the principle I have applied to crime.

It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr (1930)


The Milky Way, seen from La Silla Observatory

‘Ah, I perceive you think me weak in the extreme,’ he said, with just a shade of pique. ‘But you will never realize that an incident which filled but a degree in the circle of your thoughts covered the whole circumference of mine. No person can see exactly what and where another’s horizon is.’

Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy (1882)


“Nonsense. Why can’t a painter paint something nice and cheerful to look at? Why go out of your way to look for ugliness?”

“Some of us, mon cher, see beauty in curious places.”

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie (1942)


‘Quite marvellous,’ the stranger replies with unexpected warmth. Iris feels a rush of love for this unfamiliar human, and for all of the people pressed around her. Everyone, with their worries and their joys and their loves and their frustrations, their tears and dreams and laughter – they are all gloriously alike.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (2019)


1898 illustration by John La Farge from the original Collier’s Weekly serialisation.

‘It’s beyond everything. Nothing at all that I know touches it.’

‘For sheer terror?’ I remember asking.

He seemed to say it was not so simple as that; to be really at a loss how to qualify it. He passed his hand over his eyes, made a little wincing grimace. ‘For dreadful — dreadfulness!’

‘Oh, how delicious!’ cried one of the women.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)


‘Andy is a grower,’ said Jay earnestly. ‘He’s paid to grow things and growing things is what he’d want to do even if he wasn’t paid.’ He laughed, pleased with himself. ‘I call this the Hardie theory of happiness. You’re happy when what you are is the same as what you do.’

The Daughter of Hardie by Anne Melville (1988)


‘Taxes are high, Haith. Much higher than in the times of my father. What the King takes in taxes they cannot put on the table to feed their families.’

‘These are troubled times. The costs of Henry’s war in Normandy run high.’

‘You can see why Welsh farmers and tenants might struggle to see the relevance of that for them.’

Conquest: The Drowned Court by Tracey Warr (2017)


Large Blue butterfly

‘Remember, my darling, one man’s rubbish might be another man’s gold. But perhaps we are all beachcombers in a way,’ Daddy had said, squinting in the sun. ‘We keep seeking, hoping to find that elusive buried treasure that will enrich our lives, and when we pull up a teapot rather than a gleaming jewel, we must continue to search.’

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley (2019)


‘Of the arrows the God of Love possesses, it is Frankness I prefer, because frankness is truly noble,’ said Bernadine. ‘The other arrows – Beauty, Simplicity, Courtesy, Company, Beau-Semblant – are the qualities in a woman that may injure a man’s heart while leaving his pride untouched. That woman may get herself a lover and never open her mouth. But the man who falls in love mostly by the wound of his lover’s frankness is enobled, for he accepts her enumeration of his faults, without doubting the loving spirit in which they are given; and she accepts his frankness in return.’

To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek (2019)


Favourite books read in October:

Two on a Tower and The Daughter of Hardie

New authors read in October:

Elizabeth Macneal, James Meek

Countries visited in my October reading:

England, France, Wales, China


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in October?

13 thoughts on “My Commonplace Book: October 2019

  1. piningforthewest says:

    I’ve read Two on a Tower, It Walks By Night, The Turn of the Screw and I’ve just borrowed Rosie from the library.

    • Helen says:

      Commonplace books were popular with the Victorians – they would collect not just quotes but pictures, recipes, poems and anything else of interest. Mine is a modern online version 🙂

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    Helen, I have read The Turn of the Screw – It was some years ago now, but I remember it being deliciously creepy and a very apt read for this season. My favourites in October were the dark, historical fiction Her Kind by Niamh Boyce and a comforting re-read of the wonderful Persuasion by Jane Austen. Happy November reading! 🙂

  3. Carmen says:

    I love all the quotes this month. From your lot I’ve read The Doll Factory and liked it a great deal. In October I read The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (4*), The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (4*), and started Things in Jars by Jess Kidd–a Victorian Gothic/mystery, to be released in February 2020.

    • Helen says:

      I read Things in Jars a few months ago – I think it must have been released earlier here in the UK. I really enjoyed it. The Dutch House is on my TBR and I should be starting it soon, so I’m glad you gave it 4 stars.

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