My 2008 edition of A Christmas Cracker, being a commonplace selection, by John Julius Norwich, arrived in the mail today from amazon.co.uk. These little twenty-four page center-stapled pamphlets, this year in a bright red printed cover with little green Christmas trees, which Norwich has been publishing privately for decades, contain an oddball collection of short stories, news items, jokes, historical notes, etc., none of which has anything to do with Christmas. As far as I can tell he started publishing them as Christmas greetings/gifts to friends, but over the years these limited editions have taken on cult and collectable status and are now sold from a limited number of booksellers, including, somewhat surprisingly, Amazon. Foyle’s in London, and Heffer’s in Cambridge both sell each year’s edition.
It turns out that the term “commonplace” has a meaning. (I’m sure the erudite of you out there are saying, “Well, duh, yes of course there is.”) Wikipedia has an extensive article. Essentially, a commonplace was a notebook in which a student wrote down, generally, miscellaneous information from his studies. The act of doing this recording of information was called “commonplacing” and students were taught how to do it. Mark Twain was a notable commonplacer, and many of his notes found their way into his books. Presumably, many of those people with their Moleskine notebooks that we see scribbling away at Starbucks are commonplacing. Wikipedia characterizes blogs as a modern form of commonplace. (My definitely is, since I write about all sorts of miscellaneous things here.)