It occurred to me recently that I have books in every room of my house, except the “garage” room. I gave away nearly half my books about ten years ago and have slowly replaced them with a different set of books. My old fiction reading has morphed into non-fiction reading in just about every subject under the sun. I have stacks of cookbooks in the kitchen, dining, and living rooms. I have books in the bathroom and bedrooms—books that I have read, nearly read or plan to read. I have several books that I read concurrently. It’s a problem doing that because once I browse a bookstore and bring home something that looks too good to wait for, I immediately forget about the three half read books in various locations. It’s a challenge for non-fictions writers out there. If the book is very compelling, I’ll read it straight through and actually carry it from room to room with me.
Each new book is an invitation to learn and experience something new and wonderful, therefore, it deserves to be approached and handled with careful planning. Dust jackets must maintain their pristine sharpness. Corners are only bent back in cookbooks to flag promising recipes. But most importantly, the proper bookmark must be selected for use.
I have bookmarks from my youth that I still use. One that was perferated from a birthday card so long ago I forget when I got it. I collect them everywhere—NASA, author lectures, trade shows, and ever book store I go into. Some are homemade, some are slick, some have pithy author quotes, cheerful pictures, and scripture verses. The variety is essential because each book needs the appropriate bookmark to use with it. Any book on astronomy, of course, needs the NASA marker. Histories or autobiographies do well with the homemade or scripture verse markers. Very academic books need a bookstore marker. Cookbooks, however, are the most neglected. My haste to read through cookbooks usually leaves my choice of marker sadly unprepared. Sales slips, business cards or sticky notes very often find themselves permanently embedded in my cookbooks. I find that not to be a bad thing, despite my finicky need to use better markers for other books. I like finding old sales slips to remind myself where I found my treasures. Unfortunately, if I use a business card, I’ll never again remember where I got it or who it belonged to.
Bookmarks aren’t the only things I stuff into books. As a child, I would pull out large, old dusty tomes from the bookshelf and press wild flowers between wax paper. I still have some of those old children’s Bible books with flat, faded lupins pressed long ago. In my days working for a rare book dealer, I brought home fascinating things put into books and forgotten when collections were brought to the shop to be sold—religious cards, postcards, small fashion plates. Once while cataloging a Steinbeck collection, I found a postcard Steinbeck wrote to his mother about a scene he later included in one of his books. That one I did not get to keep.
The problem is, with my chaotic reading habits, most of my best bookmarks are stuck into books I may never finish, yet I might!, until I finally succumb to the decision that if I haven’t finally read the book already, I probably never will and the bookmark may be reused elsewhere. There’s always a slight pang of regret when the marker is pulled from the pages of an undeserving book, a book that should have been better, a book that should have been read.
Bookmarks serve such a useful purpose in keeping us on track through our reading, but they also act as placeholders of memories and emotions. There’s something essentially satisfying about choosing just the right bookmark for a new, crisp book with enormous entertainment and educational value. Never throw out a good bookmark. It could be your friend for life.