The Commonplace Book as a Thinker’s Journal

Commonplace Book

For centuries, authors and thinkers have kept commonplace books: focused journals that serve to collect thoughts, quotes, moments of introspection, transcribed passages from reading – anything of purpose worth reviewing later.

Why keep a commonplace book today? When we are inundated by information through social media and our digital devices, it’s easy to overlook what drives and intrigues us. Keeping a journal helps, but keeping a focused journal is better, even if that focus is on self-fulfillment.

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The First Year of Reading with My Son

One year ago today, my son Connor was born to parents who didn’t know much about how to raise a child. We were ready to do our best, but we knew these next few years would be full of surprises. We knew we’d make mistakes but we’d learn to trust our instincts.

As I write this, Connor holds his sippy cup in one hand and his favorite book, “The Very Busy Spider,” in the other hand. He flips through the pages, stopping to look at his favorite pictures, then brings the book to me. He sits in my lap and I read the book to him. It’s our new tradition.

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Quote: Wendy Lesser on Literary Truth

What does it mean to be honest as a writer? In particular, what makes a work of literature “ring true”? In her book, Why I Read, Wendy Lesser tries to answer these questions.

Over the weekend, I finished reading Wendy Lesser’s latest book, Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books. I am writing up a review of the book for Thursday, and as I reviewed my notes, I came across this quote. The quote comes from her chapter, “Authority,” which covers why some books resonate with readers more than others.

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The List of Lists Phenomenon

list making

Was 2013 the year of the list, and was that such a bad thing?

Every year, I enjoy reading best of lists and reflections from authors on their year in reading. I participate in these almost every year, tweeting out my favorite end-of-year lists and creating my own lists as well. The reason I like end-of-year lists? They get me thinking about my personal responses to collective experiences, whether those are reading books, listening to music, or watching TV. Many people read the same books or watched the same TV shows as I did but experienced them in different ways.

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2013: The Year I Discovered Audiobooks

For years, I never understood the appeal of audiobooks. But 2013 was my year of audiobooks, and I discovered their appeal.

2013 was the year I realized I was getting old.

I’ve been a fairly healthy person in recent years. I’ve kept a steady workout schedule, keeping in shape as I reach 30 (I still have a few months left before that happens, luckily). I haven’t always been a healthy eater, and that’s led to some health problems. These were exacerbated by my recent move to Florida and transition to working from home, which led to bad habits and an out-of-whack work/life balance. I thought the warm weather would motivate me to work out more than in the past, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I worked out less and snacked more.

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The Importance of a Good Book Review


Book criticism is its own genre. As print book review publications fold and online review sites proliferate, it’s vital to remember why a good book review — and book criticism broadly — is so important.

I’ve always considered criticism, particularly book reviews, to be as important as the books being critiqued. Maybe even more important, depending on how you look at it.

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The Best Books of 2013

Moby Dick

Our best books of 2013? We have a few from our reviews section to share.

This year, Critical Margins expanded our review content, and thanks to generous contributors like Hope Leman, we now cover a new, nonfiction book review each Thursday.

If you want to check out a rolling list of our favorite reviews and download a copy for offline reading, check out our new reviews Readlist. To read our latest reviews, go to our review page.

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The Inauthenticating of Hillary Clinton: Who’s a Phony?

Hillary Clinton in the News searches for an “authentic” Hillary Clinton. Is Clinton a victim of a sexist media machine or just a shrewd politician?

Discussed in this feature: Hillary Clinton in the News: Gender and Authenticity in American Politics by Shawn J. Parry-Giles. Forthcoming from University of Illinois Press, February 2014, 242 pages. Pre-order at U of Illinois P or Amazon.

We will hear a lot about Hillary Clinton in the next several years. The darling of upper-middle-class liberal female baby boomers, she is loathed by the right. Pundits, wonks, and political operatives make their livings in part by obsessing over whether she will run for president in 2016. Everyone else probably half admires her and is also sick of hearing about her.

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