You sometimes read a book without thinking about the bookmark that holds your place. As you read, this strip of cardboard gets tucked into the back pages or casually discarded on the bed covers, seemingly dispensable for all its functionality. But when you begin a new book the feeling is deeper than practicality, starting as you do by choosing the right bookmark for the tone of the story, as though this pairing will affect the way you’ll absorb the words.
When you count the bookmarks you own, you find you have twenty-four that you can find. There may be others, tucked into half-finished books of short stories or essays, or particularly relevant pages of reference books.
You can categorise these bookmarks into two types. The first is purely functional, adorned with advertising for books you’ve never read or the ones proclaiming Yes, I’m really reading this. And then there are the others. The ones that are used over and again, the ones you keep close by in your bedside drawer and you feel something for.
These are the bookmarks that hold images of birds or cities or mermaids, or colourful scattered letters rising up from the pages of a book, or abstract drawings in black and white or full vivid reds and blues and greens. There is one that is homemade and given to you as a gift, made of red card and decorated with gold paint, one end threaded with a golden tassel. There is one from Shakespeare and Company in Paris, a bookshop you longed to go to for many years and finally visited with a past lover. The bookshop visit was magical, the time with the lover was not.
Your current book, Small Wonder, by Barbara Kingsolver, has two macaws on its cover, their red, yellow and blue feathers dappled with light. Your chosen bookmark has a quirky colourful bird pecking the speckled ground. This bird is a special favourite. Perhaps you feel an affinity for its persistent solitude, living within the frame of this strip of cardboard, inside the dark of the closed pages for much of the day and night.
You once bought a second-hand book and found a slip of paper inside that was printed with the words Embassy of Zimbabwe, With Compliments, which you used as a bookmark for several years. And when you received delivery of a second-hand copy of On The Road by Jack Kerouac, you found an unopened packet of sunflower seeds between its pages. You are unsure if this was used by the previous owner as a bookmark, or if it was a gift to you, the new owner. You have heard stories of people finding stranger items in books, such as strips of cooked bacon, but these may just be urban myths.
You don’t consider yourself a collector of books, or of bookmarks, but you are passionate about both and the paraphernalia they entail. You love bookshops and bookshelves, bookstands and reading lights. You love bookmarks hastily made from flimsy receipts or torn strips of paper, or in desperation, the frowned upon turned-over corner. You love the sense of possibility within each and every book, and the bookmark that tells you what you’ve learned so far with the promise of what’s yet to learn.
A well-used bookmark is the ticket on a journey for knowledge, a fellow traveller through the pages of life.