Collect Yourself with a Commonplace Book



By Nick Bridwell


I strive to live a well-rounded life. That means my nightstand book queue currently features:  Ecstatic Cahoots, a short story collection by modern master Stuart Dybek, The Heart of the Matter, a novel by Graham Greene, the collected works of Lord Byron, and Vincent by Barbara Stok, a graphic novel interpretation of the life of Vincent Van Gogh. I’ll finish all of these books this summer. I probably won’t remember much of anything. I can only fit so much in my brain!


The go-to solution here might find you searching for some sort of modern day app to gather your internet observations. Well, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t the future that’s got you covered. It’s the past! Reintroducing: The Commonplace Book.


The Commonplace book was first introduced in Italy and became popular in England and France in the 1700s. Since then, famous artists and philosophers such as John Locke, John Milton, Emerson, Thoreau, E. H. Forster, and W.H. Auden have all relied on (and some, like these men, even published) Commonplace Books. Think of a Commonplace Book like a real life, physical favorite’s list.


Unlike a journal which contains one’s own thoughts and observations in a linear fashion, a Commonplace Book is a collection of articles, quotes, poems, phrases, lyrics, and more, that have impacted you in your everyday life. Your Commonplace Book can be used for both study and sentimental recollection.




While you are unlikely to recall in conversation a paragraph from The Sun Also Rises after your first reading, copy it down under a category in your Commonplace Book and come back to it a few times. Trust me, it will stick. You’ll have no problem referencing Commonplace material for discussion with friends, family, and coworkers. And what’s even better is that you can write down an article’s personal meaning and come back to exploring that thought process again and again. This allows for a deeper understanding of the articles that speak to you.


On the topic of categories: It is important that your Commonplace Book fits your particular needs. Mine contains different areas for “Literary Quotes & Passages”, “Poems & Lyrics”, “Philosophical Potpourri”, “On Art and the Artist”, “On Love”, “On Friendship”, and “On Religion”, for instance. Whatever your categories, the impact is that in the end you have a place you can come back to. I’ll finish reading my summer list and replace those books on my nightstand. I will probably forget much of the content of the books, but lucky for me I can open up my Commonplace Book and have a reminder of the important parts that really stand out.


At Saddleback Leather, we create pieces that can be passed down from generation to generation. Nothing is cooler than the thought of my future children and grandchildren thumbing through my Commonplace Book to figure out just what makes me tick. If a human being is a collection of experience and memories, a Commonplace Book is the table of contents to the soul.


Good luck creating your own Commonplace Book. Shoot some pics over and let us know how it turns out.


Nick Bridwell is the author of the novel The Ties That Bind (link: and a regular contributor to the Saddleback Blog and Plano Magazine.