Keeping a Commonplace Book

*This is a post from my archives that I’ve updated and am re-posting.*

When it comes to reading, I am a highlighter. I highlight in books a lot. But I also keep a commonplace book or what can be called a reading notebook. Actually, I keep two notebooks. One for only quotes…where I write down quotes from things I’m reading (books, articles, blog posts, etc.)…things I want to remember…things that stand out to me. And then I keep another notebook where I write quotes along with jotting down notes, writing out my thoughts, and sometimes writing summaries about what I’m reading.

There’s just something about writing down things when I’m reading. Why is that? In her book The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer helps us understand why when she says:

What we write, we remember. What we summarize in our own words becomes our own.” (pg. 35)

There is something about keeping a notebook of quotes and summaries that seems to aid in the retention of that material. I notice that even in the act of writing down a to-do list for the day, I’m more likely to remember those things on that list just by having written them down.

This is a picture of a couple of my commonplace books/reading journals.

Mrs. Bauer also says:

“…the journal is the place where the reader takes external information and records it (through the use of quotes, as in the commonplace book); appropriates it through a summary, written in the reader’s own words; and then evaluates it through reflection and personal thought…In this way, the journal connects objective and subjective learning.”
(The Well-Educated Mind, pg. 36)

One of the most powerful ways to internalize something we read is through telling about it…whether it be telling someone else about what we’ve read or by writing a summary of it on paper. This can also be known as narration.

When we keep a notebook where we jot down quotes and statements that stand out to us, then summarize what we’ve read in our own words, then reflect on it and evaluate what we think about it, we are internalizing the material…we are thinking about it…taking it in and evaluating it. And doing this helps us remember it.

To read more about keeping a commonplace book or reading notebook, might I recommend the following?

Sparkly Gel Pens, a Webinar, and Other Commonplace Book Necessities – This is a great post by Brandy. Some of the things she shares about in this post are her favorite types of notebooks and pens to use for a commonplace book.

What I Keep in My Commonplace Book – In this post, Sarah shares about her own commonplace book.

How I Use My Commonplace Journal – In this post, Mystie shares how she keeps a commonplace book. One of the things she talks about is how she uses an actual notebook and then transfers her notes to digital format.

Do you keep a commonplace book or reading notebook? What are your favorite types of notebooks to use for a reading notebook/commonplace book?


7 thoughts on “Keeping a Commonplace Book

    • I have been jotting down notes and writing summaries about books I’m reading more now than I used to. It makes a difference when I tell someone about what I’m reading or write summaries out on paper (or even type out my summaries on the computer). It’s all narration, either orally or in writing.

      I have the book The Living Page and have read some of it. I haven’t finished it yet though. I should pull it back out sometime and read some more of it. 🙂


  1. I started using a notebook when I read on my kindle. Although you can highlight, when you do it is more difficult to find it again, and as you said, doesn’t help you remember. After I saw the benefits, I began to keep a notebook for all my reading – digital or not. Good post! Thanks!


    • Thank you! I’ve highlighted some of my Kindle books too…but you are right that it is a pain to try and go back and find a specific quote that way. So with some of the ebooks, if I highlight, I will stop every so often and write out the passages I’ve highlighted in my reading notebook. 🙂


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