The Commonplace Book: A Writer’s Journey Through Quotations

Elizabeth Smither


‘This is an archive of thoughtful browsing, reflecting moods of comfort, contentment or sheer pleasure. Always there is the sense of a writer at work whose wise sensibility is deeply experienced, inspired, for whom writing is an everyday mysterious joy. This is an unmissable literary gem.’ – Elizabeth Alley, NZ Listener


You’re nothing but a piece of crockery and a bit of blood. – Epictetus

I read this on a sandwich board outside a coffee shop. I stopped, pulled out my notebook, and leaned against a shopfront.

How sharp and bloodtinglingly lovely on a clear early autumn day. The sun sharp on the shop panes, clear shadows on the foot­paths, faces outlined in a way they are not in summer. Necks with knotted scarves, half-coats. Last year’s shoes dusted and polished. I was impervious to the glances I got as I wrote down the words – perhaps I was mistaken for a reporter.

Heaven forbid it should be a poet. But that harshness in Epictetus, the Stoic, how lovely. A bit of railway cup a train has run over. A bit of blood that has gone brown, perhaps from a nosebleed during a high fever. I put the notebook back in my purse and walked on, rejoicing.

Elizabeth Smither has always kept her own collection of other people’s words: quotations, extracts, poems and pensées, the found and overheard. In The Commonplace Book she shares these witty and wise quotations with us, interspersed with incidents and memories from her own writing and life, offering a sparkling glimpse into the influences and inspirations of a far-from-commonplace writer.


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Taranaki writer Elizabeth Smither has written four novels, four books of short stories and 14 books of poetry. She has twice won the major award for New Zealand poetry and was the 2002 Te Mata Poet Laureate. She was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and was awarded an honorary DLitt from The University of Auckland in for her contributions to literature.


April 2011, 210 x 138 mm, 200 pages
Ebook, $34.99