The Bookmark

I have never spent much time thinking about who has read a book before I have.  Every now and then I get a book from the library that is old enough that it still has the check-out card in the little pocket in the back and I love to see the dates on the card, but even that only suggests when it might have been read prior to computerization. 

Last week I found a bookmark (photo above) in a book from the library, left by the prior reader.  It’s not a store-bought bookmark, but a little piece of artwork that some parent (probably) grabbed when they need to mark their place.  This resonates with me because I often use a folded post-it note, an old receipt or even a piece of used envelope when the need arises, although I do have massive numbers of official bookmarks.  When I was working in the bookstore, publishers often sent bookmarks and I always grabbed one.  If I found a bookmark when I was traveling, I always picked it up.  And, of course, I make bookmarks, often as gifts, but I always make one for myself any time I do that.  But you know how it goes; if you are downstairs when you get to a good stopping point, you’re not going to go upstairs just to find a bookmark!

This particular bookmark looks to belong to someone who works in a financial advice company and is the parent to a four- or five-year old.  The book that I found it in was How to Fly in Ten Thousand Lessons by Barbara Kingsolver, so clearly a poetry lover and someone who prefers library books to purchased books this year.  But in my fantasy world I’d love to think that the last person who picked up this book was Shirley Jackson.  I just finished her book Life Among the Savages and she mentions reading several times.  She had four kids and I can imagine her grabbing a scrap of kids’ scribbling when she needed to put down a book.

What was the last book you finished?  Who would YOU like to have read it right before you? 

28 thoughts on “The Bookmark”

  1. Morning –
    Like you, I tend to use scraps of paper or whatever is around.
    Back on our Honeymoon out in Seattle, we stopped at the Elliot Bay Bookstore and I bought some books and had a bookmark from there. Every time I used it I remembered our Honeymoon and that store and one book in particular that I got there. It’s a nice ‘warm fuzzy’ flashback.

    I’m just about done with Cokie Roberts “Founding Mothers”. Started it for class… didn’t finish it back then but that didn’t stop me from writing a book report on it. Got an ‘A’!

    I thinking I might go back to some John Irving books.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I love the story in “Founding Mother’s” about all the illegitimate children fathered by Congress and the need to provide for the children and their mothers. It explained so much…

      Then I heard Cokie talk about the story in an interview. She could hardly stop giggling about congressional attempts to hide their behavior.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I am reading a biography of Bartok. It is a present from Husband. It is so complex, and goes into great detail about the political influence on his musical phrases and choice of chords and key signatures, and how his music changed as his political thinking and aesthetics changed, that I want to read it while I sit at the piano and play the musical phrases and chords printed in the book so I can hear what the author is getting at. We actually had Mikrokosmos on the piano a while ago. I wish an eminent musicologist would have read the book before I did and had written in the margins.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. There’s a book, Forgotten Bookmarks, by Michael Popek that is sort of a scrapbook of just those sorts of impromptu bookmarks that people find. I think the most interesting item I found in an old book was the dedication program for the Second Unitarian Church of some place in Massachusetts (I forget where). One of the dedication speakers was Edward Everett, who also spoke at Gettysburg. I contacted the church to find out who kept the church’s history and ended up sending them the program.
    I also once found, in a book about Lincoln, a copy of The Sylvan Cabin, by Edward Smyth Jones, a black poet. It was a specially printed edition for the 1915 Pan Pacific Exhibition. I ended up sending that to a woman who was putting together a collection of artifacts from the exhibition.

    The last book I read was a Kindle version, so no bookmarks to be found there. Before that, I read On Horseback: A Tour In Virginia, North Carolina, And Tennessee With Notes Of Travel In Mexico And California, by Charles Dudley Warner. I’ve been reading some nineteenth century travel accounts lately. My copy of On Horseback, printed in 1899, was uncut, meaning it had no previous readers, so no bookmarks in that one either.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I had forgotten about uncut books. Have read many of those over the years. Haven’t seen one in years, they probably don’t sell those anymore.


  4. Marginalia (a Billy Conners poem, not about bookmarks but something similar)

    Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
    skirmishes against the author
    raging along the borders of every page
    in tiny black script.
    If I could just get my hands on you,
    Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
    they seem to say,
    I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

    Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
    “Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
    that kind of thing.
    I remember once looking up from my reading,
    my thumb as a bookmark,
    trying to imagine what the person must look like
    who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
    alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

    Students are more modest
    needing to leave only their splayed footprints
    along the shore of the page.
    One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
    Another notes the presence of “Irony”
    fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

    Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
    hands cupped around their mouths.
    “Absolutely,” they shout
    to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
    “Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
    Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
    rain down along the sidelines.

    And if you have managed to graduate from college
    without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
    in a margin, perhaps now
    is the time to take one step forward.

    We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
    and reached for a pen if only to show
    we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
    we pressed a thought into the wayside,
    planted an impression along the verge.

    Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
    jotted along the borders of the Gospels
    brief asides about the pains of copying,
    a bird singing near their window,
    or the sunlight that illuminated their page–
    anonymous men catching a ride into the future
    on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

    And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
    they say, until you have read him
    enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

    Yet the one I think of most often,
    the one that dangles from me like a locket,
    was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
    I borrowed from the local library
    one slow, hot summer.
    I was just beginning high school then,
    reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
    and I cannot tell you
    how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
    how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
    when I found on one page

    a few greasy looking smears
    and next to them, written in soft pencil–
    by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
    whom I would never meet–
    “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I have a set of the plays of George Bernard Shaw that were once owned by writer Brenda Ueland. They are full of marginalia. I also have a book, Crackerbox Philosophers by Jennette Tandy that has the bookplate of historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr.

      A lot of my 19th C books have a previous owner’s signature, sometimes the date and place. I like to see if I can track them down to find out a little about them.

      Liked by 6 people

  5. The last book I finished was A Gentleman in Moscow, which I liked very much, so I got his previous book Rules of Civility, from the library. Enjoying that one too.

    I’ve read some book reviews by Nick Hornby. He reads a lot and writes reviews for The Believer. I’ve picked up a few books after reading his review, so maybe there is at least the theoretical chance that he was the last reader of my copy. I think it would have had to cross an ocean though.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I finished Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson week, alas, no marginalia. In fact, I haven’t seen or written anything in margins for a long time, but I am doing so now as I read My Grandmother’s Hands for a book club, which may require its own blog post. And just in case you think that all sounds kind of heavy, I’m also reading Janet Evanovich’s Tricky Twenty-Two.

    I do miss the card-in-sleeve that, very early on, had other people’s names, and then just the date of the last checkout. I like it when I find a used book with a name written in… It would be fun to find one formerly owned by, say, Joni Mitchell.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I don’t know that I have ever given much thought to who has read a book prior to my reading it, with one significant exception. I worked at the Grand Rapids Public Library (Minnesota, not Michigan) from 1977-1979, right before my grad school years. There was a lovely, sweet woman on the Library Board who came from an important family in the town. She was the 90 plus years old spinster sister who out-lived everyone in her family. I dimly remember the story being that her beloved fiancé was killed in WWI, which left her bereft and unmarried. She lived in the Victorian style family home built by a lumber/paper baron father, all alone with many, many cats. As in cat hoarder numbers and conditions.

    The Board Members had a perq in which they could be the first reader of new, usually popular fiction or non-fiction. Any book this woman took was returned stained with cat urine, sometimes cat feces, smelling like, well you know. The Head Librarian at the time just ask that I bring those books to her so she could re-order that copy for public circulation while the returned copy went into the trash bin.

    I never, ever read one of those books and I went to great lengths to avoid them. I don’t think this is the kinds of thoughts about who read the book you intended, VS, but it was the reality.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. The most recent book I read was John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie. I had read it before, eons ago, in a Danish translation. My brother-in-law in Denmark mentioned it in a recent letter to husband, and his comments
    made me wonder whether I remembered it correctly. He seemed to think of the book as a travelogue, and that wasn’t how I remembered, it all. So I bought a used paperback copy of the book online and reread it, this time in the original language. I still don’t think of it as a travelogue. Now I wonder if Peter read it, and if he didn’t, why he would even mention it?

    First time I read this book, was several years before I ever set foot on American soil, or even considered that I ever would. At the time, I had no map of the US in my head, so really no concept about the regional differences of either the landscapes or the people that he encountered along the way. I was, of course aware of the racial strife and the civil rights struggles, but again, no real understanding of them.

    Rereading the book after having lived here fifty-five years, and having traveled large parts of the route he followed, gave a much different perspective on the book and the people Steinbeck encountered on the way. Having met him in Moscow in 1964, I made a deliberate effort to find his summer home in Sag Habor during my visit there in 1968, the place from where he set out on his Travels with Charlie.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I have a book, ostensibly one of humor, published in 1863, that seems to have had a dissatisfied owner.
    On the endpaper in light pencil is written “Viva La Humbug!

    Following that, on the free front endpaper, is a commentary on how the title, “Drifting Along”, aptly portrays the vapidness of the contents.

    On the title page of this book, the same disgruntled reader has written, “Don’t read this book—it won’t pay—it is merely a catchpenny.”

    I find it interesting that this person, who owned the book, was sending his message to the future, presuming that others beyond him would hold and regard the book that was presently his. I can’t say that I’ve ever thought of my books as a vehicle for sending messages to future generations.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Sometimes books from Winona’s P L have a one-sentence “review” on an extra front page, i.e. “good plot”… sometimes there are two or three of them. I wish I had one here so I could be sure I’m accurate… will check some time and maybe confirm.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Our children will inherent cookbooks with lots af marginalia about changes to make the recipes better, cautions, and advice. The best recipes can be identified by the stains.

    Liked by 4 people

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