Hanna cites some descriptions of the commonplace books many readers used to keep, and some still keep. One of the descriptions proposes a completely different way of reading — a way of reading similar to today’s netsurfer-writer:

Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality….


3 thoughts on “read in fits and starts

  1. Lilia

    if you are interested in reading/writing relations, there is a very interesting study of reading from paper – chapter 4 of “The Myth of the Paperless Office” (the rest is a great book based on ethnograhic research on everyday use of paper and its implications for designing technologies).

    I guess I’ll blog it coming month because I’m going to use it for my study on weblog reading 🙂

  2. Jill

    Thanks, that sounds interesting… And looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!

  3. Monkeymagic

    Commonplace ignorance
    This is FANTASTIC! [Excuse the outburst, but I’m really, really excited by this]. You may know this already but it looks as though blogging isn’t really anything new. It’s the connected version of the Renaissance tradition called “commonplacing”. Here …

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