Garner's Quotations: A Modern Miscellany

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Dwight Garner on Commonplace Books

At The New York Times, book critic and Garner’s Quotations author Dwight Garner shares his decades-long habit of keeping a commonplace book. “It’s where I write down favorite sentences from novels, stories, poems and songs, from plays and movies, from overheard conversations. Lines that made me sit up in my seat; lines that jolted me awake…into it I’ve poured verbal delicacies, ‘the blast of a trumpet,’ as Emerson put it, and bits of scavenged wisdom from my life as a reader. Yea, for I am an underliner, a destroyer of books, and maybe you are, too.” He notes that commonplace books have long been popular, including among some of the most well-known literary figures. “Virginia Woolf kept one. So did Samuel Johnson. W. H. Auden published his, as did the poet J. D. McClatchy. E. M. Forster’s was issued after his death. The novelist David Markson wrote terse and enveloping novels that resembled commonplace books; they were bird’s nests of facts threaded with the author’s own subtle interjections.” 

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