A Commonplace Book


I’m selective about which books I buy now, there’s not enough shelving. I’m careless, anyway. Once finished, I’d toss the book under the bed until no more fit and pages spilled out into the aisle. I tripped on hardbacks in the night. The dog made a den under the bed and hides mangled toys there, so that’s no longer an option. I borrow books from the library. Sometimes I pay fines. There’s no excuse for it, but it’s true. It usually happens when no renewals remain, someone else requested the text, and I’m not ready to surrender.

Though confessing to carelessness with my own books, I take great care with borrowed ones. I do not fold down page corners. I flip through the pages to remove scraps of gift wrap or newsprint bookmarking before returning a library book; most solemnly, I do not mark the text or margins. It is dismaying to open a book and find underlining, bracketing and marginalia that is not ones own. It is distracting and rude. (Another confession: Not a fan of David Foster Wallace footnoting for approximately the same reason. However, I’m intrigued to find a previous borrower’s bookmark scraps to scrutinize for hidden messages.)

I read with a pen at hand, a fidget of concentration. I keep a small spiral notebook, the size of a generous postcard, with unlined pages as a commonplace book. I record notes and copy passages into this book. Although transcription is slow, and my handwriting is careless, tracing a sentence word-by-word tattoos it to memory’s skin whether or not the point is mastered:

“We are the wind chimes, not the wind,” a poet wrote about crafting her art.

“In essay, avoid the use of personal pronouns, although the essay must be personal,” Donald Hall writes in his “Essays after Eighty.” (I contemplate this advice while still unraveling it, obviously.)


Author: Kim K. McCrea

Kim K. McCrea earned her BA in English before embarking on a career in technology and public service. Kim won Oregon Writers Colony 2018 essay award, Treefort’s 2017 Wild West Writing Prize, and was named runner-up in Cutbank 2018 Big Sky/Small Prose contest. Her creative nonfiction is featured in Cutbank, Tishman Review, Cagibi, and elsewhere; she is the author of the novel Pandora's Last Gift. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Kim lives in Oregon, where she studies the moon and stars and wanders with her Labrador in the rain.

10 thoughts on “A Commonplace Book”

  1. The DFW footnoting is its own thing. I couldn’t follow that punchline (or gag), though appreciate his utter commitment to it 🤓 talk about “infinite jest!”


      1. Ha, love that. He’s one of the only writers whose work has given me nightmares. Even Stephen King didn’t.


  2. For about a year (before I got my medications straightened out) I used to leave a bookmark in every library book as a treasure for the next person to find. The bookmark, unsurprisingly, was a marketing card for my own book. Now that I work at the library, I’m mortified that someone


  3. I like finding these little secret-message treasures in books or other places. I once found someone’s sketch of a face left behind on a pad of paper at a restaurant that supplied the things for children. And a note inside a closed box in a restroom of the massage shop I visit. I wrote about how it makes me feel to find these things–the owner of the massage place read my post and didn’t even know that one of his staff had placed the little note there. It read “You are a beautiful person.”
    My point–these little things, these little moments, are magic. And I love that you capture them in your version of a commonplace book.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: