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Never Do That to a Book

Your Humble Blogger happened to be reading in Anne Fadiman’s collection of essays Ex Libris, and came across something truly shocking. The essay is called “Never Do That to a Book”; the proscribed thing is leaving it facedown, splayed to save the page. This is a habit I broke myself of, eventually. I won’t say that I never, ever do it, but it’s an emergency act, intended for a moment or two. I would never leave the house with a book in that condition, or retire for the night with a book on the bedside bureau broken-spined beside me. No. I don’t do that anymore.

I use bookmarks! Bookmarks! Bookmarks, people!

My most common bookmark, these days, is the slip of register tape they give me at the public library. As they give it to me (or as I tear it off the machine myself—on my last trip the clerk pretty much insisted that I take my stack of books over the self-service kiosk rather than wasting her time at the desk, despite the quite reasonable quantity, probably under two dozen including the videos and CDs) I try to put it in the book I am most likely to read first. I’ve probably already started one at that point, possibly more than one, so I may have a place to keep already. When I’m done with that first book, I usually transfer it to another and then another. I like to keep them, eventually, in a big manila envelope, as a record of the children’s reading (or at least checking out), but sometimes they get thrown out or crumpled beyond legibility.

Other bookmarks include receipts, price tags, those oval-shaped bits of cardboard you tear off a new Kleenex box to get at the tissue, and even on occasion printed bookmarks. Rarely those. I have a few lovely ones; laminated or hand-painted or whatnot, and even one I knit myself, but I don’t use them much. At my library of employment, we use 8"x1" cardstock strips to mark just-shelved books for me and my co-workers to double-check; some of those found their way home, as well as a whole slew of similar strips cut out of red paper (of ordinary 20lb weight) that were cut by mistake. Those are great bookmarks, only for some reason they get lost a lot.

We attempt to instill the bookmark habit in the kids. This is… moderately successful. They know about bookmarks, anyway, and they know that if a parent finds a splayed book there will be a yelling, but the clarity on the concept is not altogether there, as witness the variety of things that they are likely to attempt to use as bookmarks. Socks. Other books. Tiny plastic battleaxes. Robotic bugs. Fire irons. Kittens. The ice planet of Hoth made out of Legos. Nor have we been altogether successful at imparting the lesson that at some point one must, in fact, actually stop reading and attend to some other task. Half-a-dozen times a day, in our house, is someone told to put a bookmark in it; I am tempted to get the phrase translated into Latin and added to the family seal. It could go on my tombstone along with an image of Ezekiel and the Skeletons, no? OK, probably not.

But this is my point: Bookmarks.

Ms. Fadiman does describe the scope and range of bookmarkery, from owl feathers and Paris Metro tickets to silver Tiffany bookmarks and reproduction Audubon paintings. She largely rejects these, however, in favor of the book-splaying proscribed in the essay’s title. Sure, it’s bad for the book. But she is in favor of loving a book to pieces—a carnal book-lover, rather than a courtly one. I read with perfect equanimity her descriptions of disintegrating books kept in baggies, cookbooks with egg yolk marking memorable disasters, and even paperbacks carried on airplanes with the already-read chapters torn out and thrown away.

I tell you what I cannot get over, though. I can’t get over… you know what? There are librarians present. Y’all may want to have a nice reviving cup of tea to hand, because you know what is coming next:

She dog-ears the pages.

ZOM, as they say, G.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Nancy dog-ears the pages, and it used to drive me absolutely starkers. Now I just sort of shudder... and do it myself. But never to a library book; that would just be rude.

I'd recommend book darts anyway, but especially if you're tempted to dog-ear things. Buy a tin of 75 or 500 or some other number that seems like way more than you could possibly need, leave them somewhere easy to find, and just stick them in all your books. They have none of the annoyance factor of having a piece of paper (or sock, or lego structure) fall out of your book every time you pick it up. They're great. (I'm not sure why Amazon thinks you want to pay $10 for 12 of them, though. Keep googling.)

I had to brace myself. Thank you for the warning.

You know what else makes a good bookmark, for those of us that like to knit and read? Yarn.

I love book darts! I've mostly stopped reading paper books, but some of my books have dozens of book darts in them.

But I also wanted to note that every time I buy a paper book, the bookstore tries to give me a bookmark. Sometimes two or three. I don't use bookmarks for paper books--I just remember more or less where I was, and then find the specific place by paging back and forth--but if I did, I think I would have hundreds of them by now.

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