Not long ago, having realized that none of the other online to-read list options I'd been trying were really working out, I joined Goodreads. I like the ease of adding a book to one's to-read or currently-reading shelves; I like the tagging; I like being able to specify what page I'm on; and I like reading other people's reviews, and writing reviews of my own.
What I wasn't expecting to find was the "Quotes" feature. One can, if one likes, search for quotations from one's favorite authors, save quotations to a list of personal favorites, add in quotations that nobody else has added yet, and give them descriptive tags. My first thought, when I saw all this, was that the commonplace book phenomenon had popped up in another place I hadn't been looking for it.
A lot of the most popular quotations on Goodreads are of the banal sort that one sees on greeting cards and refrigerator magnets (if I had a dollar for every time I've seen that "Dance like no one is watching" bit, I could retire tomorrow), but people have used the Quotes feature to collect all kinds of quotations, some of them wonderful. When I found it, I promptly spent several hours going through old notebooks and adding favorite snippets of prose and poetry to my Goodreads list. Once I started, I couldn't stop.
It makes me just a little bit happier when I see a passage I typed in getting favorited by other readers, like I've introduced someone to something splendid they maybe hadn't seen before. Which, come to think of it, is perhaps how the compilers of the 19th-century commonplace books I've been looking at felt when they shared their extracts with friends and family members. Certainly the combination of "familiar quotations" and idiosyncratic personal tastes is something that's become very familiar to me as I look at 200-year-old collections of quotations.
And because I can't resist, here are a few extracts from my own Goodreads commonplace book:
Mr Earbrass was virtually asleep when several lines of verse passed through his mind and left it hopelessly awake. Here was the perfect epigraph for TUH:
A horrid ?monster has been [something] delay'd
By your/their indiff'rence in the dank brown shade
Below the garden...
His mind's eye sees them quoted on the bottom third of a right-hand page in a (possibly) olive-bound book he read at least five years ago. When he does find them, it will be a great nuisance if no clue is given to their authorship.
—Edward Gorey, The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel
"It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself — We fainted alternately on a sofa." —Jane Austen, Love and Freindship
So one can lose a good idea
by not writing it down, yet by losing it one can have it: it nourishes other asides
it knows nothing of, would not recognize itself in, yet when the negotiations
are terminated, speaks in the acts of that progenitor, and does
recognize itself, is grateful for not having done so earlier.
—John Ashbery, Flow Chart
Rosencrantz: Shouldn't we be doing something—constructive?
Guildenstern: What did you have in mind? ... A short, blunt human pyramid...?
—Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
"Their relationship consisted / In discussing if it existed." —Thom Gunn, "Jamesian"
[This last one gets my personal vote for Best. Epigram. EVER.]