07 January 2009

At least they know their Plaice...

Once, a long time ago, my weekly essay on books was named "Bookmark."

Antonia Lamb, then editor of the Mendocino Art Center's publication Arts & Entertainment, thought it up. Neither of us could think of a better name, until eventually the much more poetic "Words on Books" finally came to mind.

So, what is it about bookmarks? What are bookmarks, anyway?

Where do they come from, and where do they go?

I have used toilet tissue squares as bookmarks, and expensive metallic clip-on gizmos, and cardboard lozenges with pictures of cats and a tassel, and more. Where are these bookmarks today?

Sometimes you find them on the floor, stepped upon. Sometimes you find them in used books, with the name of some long-gone bookstore. Sometimes you find them for sale, in glassine envelopes. Have you ever paid good money for a set of bookmarks only to see them drift away with books you loan to friends, or get lost at the back of a drawer, unused?

Wherever they keep those lost socks, that's where they keep those lost bookmarks.

When reading in high winds the bookmark tends to fly away, especially at page-turn time. Now that I think about it, you don't really need a bookmark when you are busy reading, only before and after. I'm in the habit of placing the bookmark somewhere else in the book, like way in the back where I haven't read to yet. When it's time to find the bookmark I shake the book to make the bookmark appear. The bookmark flies out, then I drop the book and then I really lose my place, and my patience with this whole reading experience, and I still don't know where to put the bookmark once I've retrieved it.

So I have to guess, and usually I'm wrong, and the bookmark is one page away from where I stopped reading.

Why do we need bookmarks in the first place? After all, if readers really are all that smart we could remember a page number. Why else do pages have numbers on them? I've tried this method, by the way, but it just doesn't work for me.

Once, aboard a ship at sea, far from professionally designed bookmarks, I used my very last, small, rectangular, pink, sticky Post-it Note to mark my place in a large book. I used that bookmark more often than most, interrupted as I was by the shifting position of the sun, or the deck, or both at the same time. Also by lifeboat drills, calls to lunch or, later, to tea, passersby asking what I was reading, and the occasional tropical zephyr which wanted to lift the book out of my hand and waft it overboard.

I repositioned the pink Post-it dozens of times, until it had so little stickiness left I had to tuck it in the middle where eventually it died, lost between the margins of chapters quickly read and just as quickly forgotten.

When I was a bookseller we used to give away a bookmark with every book purchased. Some enthusiastic booksellers gave away a handful each time. I always wondered what happened to them, not the booksellers, the extra, unneeded, place holders.

I have a theory. These bookmarks blew away overboard. Even now there are fish in the sea keeping their places with a Mendocino bookstore bookmark. I envy these fish. At least they know their place.

NOTE: I love the word or words "passersby"... Dictionaries report it is possible to write the plural of "passerby" as "passers-by" or "passersby." Maybe "passers by" would be acceptable as well. The lack of precision here, of course, reflects the general deterioration of the English language. The lack of precision here, of course, reflects the wonderful adaptability of English.


Marilyn Green said...

When I was a librarian, we used to find all sorts of odd things used as bookmarks. The worst was a piece of bacon. All the best, Marilyn Green

Anonymous said...

My wife gets after me all the time to use a bookmark. She hates it when I turn down the corner on a paperback (I never do that to a hardback -I usually use the cover). Chris, the other fiddle in my group, gave me several musical bookmarks with a tassel and I use those most of the time. I can never find the one(s) you gave me on those occasion when I purchased books at your fabulous bookstore in Mendo.
Good photos, by the way on your other site.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be something about bacon rashers used as bookmarks. In 1978 my wife discovered one in a public library book in west London (UK) and when she pointed it out to the librarian, was told "Oh, that's nothing: last year we found a kipper spine in one of our books."

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