I never used bookmarks when I was growing up. I devoured books, both with my avid reading and my pervasive habit of marking all the pages.
I dog-eared pages, wrote notes in the margins, highlighted, doodled and inscribed my name on all books that entered my personal library, even if they weren’t meant to stay there.
I was never destructive with my books, though, not like my mother. If you lend my mother a book, chances are she’ll drop it in a pool, lose half of it in a fight with a dog and sell the other half at the flea market Sunday. I’m always wary when I lend a book to her.
But, I never thought twice when I borrowed books from others and took to my more subtle form of destruction. I didn’t ask before writing anecdotes on the sidelines of my friend’s copies of George Saunders’ stories. I could never sell my college textbooks or reading assignments back to the bookstore, they were always listed as “poor condition,” although I would argue the notes I left behind increased the value.
My habit has led to joy, though. I’ve held onto a friend’s copy of “A Fan’s Notes” for far too long but have enjoyed the shared notes on its pages, scrawled in different handwritings from him to me, from different times.
And I’ve tried to stop defacing my reads by going digital, but I can never maintain interest in my e-reader long enough to make it a habit.
A few months, ago, I borrowed a book. It was one of a mystical series that I probably would love but I was too scared to crack open its pages.
I didn’t trust myself with the copy. It was loaned to me with the understanding that it was special, with history and meaning to the lender.
I imagined myself turning into my mother, a reflection I’m starting to see more and more these days, and dropping the book off the side of a boat and then immediately into an eagle’s mouth, who then tosses it into a campfire back onshore.
Or, more realistically, I saw myself reading it before bed and then habitually dog-earing the page.
So, I got some bookmarks.
I used an old receipt, or an actual bookmark from the library, and kept track of where I was in the book.
And the habit’s stuck with me. I’ve retained this caring, this appreciation for the sanctity of a singularly marked page, with just the author’s words for the reader’s sole interpretation.
I haven’t been writing in my books, or dog-earing the pages.
I’m no longer leaving a trace of where I’ve been and how I’ve felt, instead I’m hoping that I can pass my hard copies on, and let the next reader do so uninterrupted.
They won’t see a sad part coming because I’ve written “how tragic” in the margins, or force a laugh when I’ve written “ha ha!”
They’ll have their own experience, their own story. They’ll have the pages all to themselves, and they’ll be able to form new connections, take their own breaks, follow their own journey.
And I’ll be able to take my bookmark, and use it for the next chapter of whatever book I pick up next.