Commonplace Book

Some collected resources about the practice of keeping a commonplace book or zibaldone.



“Whatever the reason, he did what people of his era tended to do when they had some time—he took out his notebook and his set of pens, and he put together a page-sized patchwork of his afternoon.”

“Scribbles and sketches fill each page. Personal anecdotes and hard-won lessons nestle alongside gathered material, including prayers, copied quotations and lists of spices.”

“A strange melange of diary, ledger, doodle pad, and scrapbook, these volumes—along with similar ‘hodgepodges’ and ‘commonplace books’—served as a pattern for interior life from the 14th century onward, bringing comfort and inspiration to everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Lewis Carroll.”

“Unlike their upper-class counterparts, who mostly stuck to Latin, these tradesmen wrote in the Italian vernacular; they also were more likely to crib together all kinds of work and play into one small, portable book. They called each volume a zibaldone, Italian for ‘a heap of things,’ possibly after a type of mixed-up stew.”

“In Ancient Greece, Aristotle had suggested his students keep scrolls of notes from their studies, organized by subject, so that they could return at will to any topic’s ‘place.’”

“Renaissance-era teachers resurfaced this idea, and by the 17th century, students at Oxford were required to keep ‘commonplace books,’ organized notebooks stuffed with useful texts from elsewhere.”

“This heady combination of usefulness and prestige meant that by the 19th century, pretty much every serious literary figure traveled with a notebook and pen specifically for zibaldoning.”

“The commonplace book of William Byrd II, founder of Richmond, Virginia, is full of scripture, meal logs, and 18th-century sex tips, all of which have proved fruitful to modern scholars hoping for a glimpse at colonial American life.”

“The British sailor Henry Tiffin shows up in zero history books, but filled his own book with 28 years’ worth of sea shanties, ship notes, and gorgeous watercolors.”

“In fact, some media scholars argue that commonplace books and zibaldones were precursors to the Internet, which is similarly scrappy and mixed-up, rich in influences and perfectly willing to zig-zag between genres.”

“Chachra mostly reads books on her Kindle, so after she finishes one, she’ll write a squib about it in her zibaldone. That way, she can feel its continued presence somewhere, even if not on a shelf. She’ll do the same for films and concerts.”

“You learn about a hundred pages a day about how to live, but the book (this book) has 15 or 20 million pages.” – Giacomo Leopardi