Commonplace Book - Winter 2023

Commonplace Book

By Anne Matthews | December 1, 2022
Flickr/photosbyzoe
Flickr/photosbyzoe

Nothing is as important to our ability to survive as our ability to hurt.

Haider Warraich, The Song of Our Scars, 2022


In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1793


Little is understood, for example, of how the Vikings measured time. Their music and songs are a mystery. … It is unclear where women were believed to go when they died. Why was so much silver buried in the ground and never recovered? These and other questions go on and on, and have vexed scholars for centuries. Some questions are more tentative, and their answers may be unknowable. But they are still worth asking. If you truly believed—in fact, knew—that the man living up the valley could turn into a wolf under certain circumstances, what was it like to be his neighbour? What was it like to be married to him?

Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm, 2020


[Siberia] is the ultimate land beyond ‘The Rock,’ as the Urals used to be described, an unwritten register of the missing and the uprooted, an almost-country perceived to be so far from Moscow that when some kind of falling star destroyed a patch of forest twice the size of the Russian capital in the famed ‘Tunguska Event’ of 1908, no one bothered to investigate for twenty years.

Sophy Roberts, The Lost Pianos of Siberia, 2020


BIFF: When he’d come home from a trip; or on Sundays, making the stoop; finishing the cellar; putting on the new porch; when he built the extra bathroom; and put up the garage. You know something, Charley, there’s more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made.

CHARLEY: Yeah. He was a happy man with a batch of cement.

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, 1949


Before Dürer, dragons existed; after him, they did not.

Philip Hoare, Albert and the Whale, 2021


And a human being whose life is nurtured in an advantage which has accrued from the disadvantage of other human beings, and who prefers that this should remain as it is, is a human being by definition only, having much more in common with the bedbug, the tapeworm, the cancer, and the scavengers of the deep sea.

James Agee, “Cotton Tenants,” 1936


How sweet a thing it is for a strong healthy man with a woman’s eyes and a child’s wishes to feel that he can speak so to a man who can be if he wishes father, and brother and wife to his soul. I don’t think you will laugh, Walt Whitman, nor despise me, but at all events I thank you for all the love and sympathy you have given me in common with my kind.

Bram Stoker, fan letter, February 14, 1876


Teems of times and happy returns. Beckett

Samuel Beckett, birthday telegram to James Joyce, February 2, 1931


When at home, I turn aside a little more often to my library, from which at one sweep I command a view of my household. I am over the entrance, and see below me my garden, my farmyard, my courtyard, and into most parts of my house. There I leaf through now one book, now another, without order and without plan, by disconnected fragments.

Michel de Montaigne, Essays, 1580


Not many people know that the ice moves; there’s a common perception that the ice in Greenland is static, motionless—inanimate, in other words—when it’s anything but. Panta rhei, the ancient Greeks taught us: Everything flows. Even ice masses, like dense rivers, move under their own weight. … At the center of this polar landmass, at its thickest point, the ice can be up to 2 miles (3 km) deep, thinning out to around a few hundred meters along the coast where it flows into the ocean, like a river of opalescent lava.

Marco Tedesco, The Hidden Life of Ice, 2019


I am personally rather tolerant of disorder. But I always remember how unrelaxed I felt in a particular bathroom which was kept spotlessly clean in so far as the removal of grime and grease was concerned. It had been installed in an old house in a space created by the simple expedient of setting a door at each end of a corridor between two staircases. The decor remained unchanged: the engraved portrait of Vinogradoff, the books, the gardening tools, the row of gumboots. It all made good sense as the scene of a back corridor, but as a bathroom—the impression destroyed repose.

Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, 1966


Why not leave it all to Nemesis
And take a long walk outside
In whatever direction holds the prospect
Of your recovering things to remember
From those lighter years in open spaces
That shore beside an endless sea
The white mornings to lie in wonder
After the beautiful dark passages
Of nightlong loving and the dividends
Of having held another beyond
Any belief that it could possibly end.

Edmund Keeley, “Daylight,” The Hudson Review, Summer 2021


The South and the nation are not exchanging strengths as much as they are exchanging sins; more often than not, they are sharing and spreading the worst in each other, while the best languishes and withers.

John Egerton, The Americanization of Dixie, 1974


You sink down and muffle your head in the clothes, shivering all the while, but less from bodily chill, than the bare idea of a polar atmosphere. It is too cold even for the thoughts to venture abroad. You speculate on the luxury of wearing out a whole existence in bed, like an oyster in its shell, content with the sluggish ecstasy of inaction, and drowsily conscious of nothing but delicious warmth …

Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Haunted Mind,” Twice-Told Tales, 1837 and 1842


And we must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.

David Mamet, Boston Marriage, 1999

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