When talking about books and writing there always seems to be one little thing that is forgotten and pushed to the back of the discussion. Perhaps not quite shunned and ostracised but certainly ignored for other more weighty matters. It’s like the person who stands alone in the corner at a party; not because they’re a social leper, but simply because everyone else is too busy with other things. I am of course talking about bookmarks.
Bookmarks are those little stalwart vanguards of the reading world. They held your hand when you cried during that romance novel of yours, they stood resolutely by your side as you struggled your way through that big, high-brow classic that hasn’t aged too well and doesn’t make a lot of sense, they never left your side when you were reading that trashy novel you bought at the airport which everyone said was great but was actually really shit. They didn’t judge you. They were with you every step of the way. They did all this without expecting any recognition nor thanks, because they’re inanimate objects and such a thing would be impossible for them, but they were still there! Despite the fact that we don’t give them half the credit they deserve, bookmarks are extraordinarily important things. They are a simple little device which holds our place for us, it lets us remember where we were. They are our anchorage amidst an angry and uncertain sea of words. Nearly everyone has one, even if they don’t read. They’ll be some in a box somewhere gathering dust.
You can tell a lot about a person from the bookmark the use. The person who just uses the receipt from the book’s purchase is a busy person. They don’t like to waste things, they’re a little OCD but don’t want to admit it. The bookmark serves a function and being the practical sort of person they are they’ll just use the nearest thing they can find. They’re also a little bit lazy but don’t like to admit it. The person who uses a scrap of paper from a discarded envelope or magazine is much the same but with more emphasis on the busyness and the laziness; the two are rarely mutually exclusive. Then there’s the cheap strips of printed cardboard you can get from tourist shops. These people are sentimentalists, the bookmark reminds them of where they bought it, perhaps it reminds them of the good times during the grey drudgery of the working day, or perhaps they just like the picture. These are simple people, who like the simple things and try to escape from the complexities of the world. You’ve got the stitched fabric strips, these people are whimsical and artsy. They are thinkers and dreamers. You’ve got the little magnetic ones that clamp over the pages. These people are analytical, and both mystified and fascinated by gadgetry. Then you’ve got the people who just dog-ear the page. These are people who are free from the constraints of materialism, detached from the deep wonders of owning a library of your own. That is the polite way to say “savage Neanderthals who want shot”. The colours are important too. Blues and pastels are for the calm, laid back types, but with perhaps an undercurrent of melancholy. Reds for the silently angry. Yellows and oranges for the bouncy and energetic.
All of what I just said is of course bollocks, but it’s got you thinking hasn’t it? Thinking about what your bookmark says about you. People will see your bookmark and judge you. Just as they judge you by what you’re reading. The silent, dispassionate judgement of the commuter. Everyone is constantly judging everyone else, that’s a fact. Not a science fact, but one of those vaguely probable facts of life. You may think yourself all lofty and sophisticated reading War and Peace but the effect’s going to be somewhat ruined if your bookmark’s a lace doily covered in pink teddy bears.
Of course if you use an e-book reader this little indulgence is taken away from you. You’ve farmed out yet another simple responsibility that can bring a little bit of warmth and joy into the world to a cold, heartless, unthinking machine. And that makes you dead inside.
I’ve three long standing favourites in my stable of accumulated book marks. I haven’t bought a bookmark in well over a decade, I just seem to accumulate them or be given them. My champion of the bookmark world, my stalwart companion on the clipper of knowledge, scything through the sea of fiction has been with me from a very long time indeed. I made this bookmark with my own hands when I was 8 years old. I picked the colours, I picked the pattern and then I went and sewed it all together. It long ago started to fray at the edges, the once bright colours have been made drab by decades of rubbing against printed words, but it’s still going. I like to see it as a representation of myself. A bright eyed, bouncing child worn down by life and it’s disappointments. But resolutely holding itself together with spit and glue. In the case of the bookmark it is quite literally, held together with glue. The supporting characters in my bookmark circle are the brazen neoprene man with googly-eyes, a souvenir from a power station long since demolished. Yet another lifeline to a misspent and vanished childhood. I came into possession of him at the age of perhaps 12. At roughly the same I was bought the last bookmark by my parents. One of those aforementioned magnetic bookmarks that clamp over the page. It displays proudly the etymology of the name “John” and the various qualities you’d expect to find in someone with that name. Sure most of what it says is tripe but when you’re 12 that sort of thing appeals to you. That and it had magnets. All kids love magnets.
And naturally when it came time to start reading the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft, from a delightful leather-bound tome, emblazoned with “Necronomicon” in big golden letters, which one do you think I picked? It had to be my little blue friend, how could I not associate his wild-eyed, slack-jawed madness with the tales of the beyond and all the dark things that haunt our world.
And on that note I shall bother you with my ramblings no more.
April 15th, 2011 at 5:37 pm
No joke, while reading Infinite Jest I use two bookmarks. One for the book itself and one for the copious footnotes. It’s a masterpiece 😀
April 16th, 2011 at 11:03 pm
I still need to get round to reading that.