Our Old Friend the Bookmark

owl bookmark

This is my favorite bookmark. I’ve had it since I was a child

Bookmarks are wonderful things, often as personal as the books we choose to read. In a pinch you could just use a scrap of paper or an index card and there are certainly times when I’ve done that. But if you’re going to give a book you read the royal treatment, you really ought to bring a beloved bookmark along for the ride.

I’ve included a picture of my favorite bookmark here. The picture is a little blurry (you can click on it for a higher resolution version), but it depicts two owls and the words, “This is where I fell asleep.” This bookmark has seen better days to be sure. It’s as worn and ragged as some of the books in my library, but, as any true reader knows, the more worn the book (or bookmark) the more loved it is.

Fighting the Sleep Monster

I can’t remember when I first got the bookmark with the owls, but I’ve had it since I was a child. As with any true afficiando of books, I’ve spent my fair share of nights doing just what this book suggests, falling asleep in the middle of a page. Sometimes when I’m reading, I’ll start drifting off and realize I have just been passing my eyes over the words. The story has gone floating off somewhere between my dreams and the page and at that point, I’m done for. It’s time to hit the nightstand light and pack it in.

Other times, you find it almost impossible to sleep. These are more rare, but there are certainly times when you know your body desperately needs rest and yet, the book you’re reading simply will not yield. Your mind is absorbed in a battle whose outcome remains on the edge of a knife, in the struggles of the hero to save someone’s life, in the lonely prison cell which has trapped you as surely as it has the main character of the novel.

hobbit movie bookmark

Bookmarks with tassels are a great choice

The Road Goes Ever On and On

These days, though, what with the phenomenon of e-books, the future of the bookmark seems uncertain. What place has the old cardstock separator in a world of pixels and bytes? Our e-readers hold our place for us automatically. No need to fret and fury over losing these eternal watchdogs. No chance of our our digital downloads slipping open accidentally and our precious place drifting to the floor. Will bookmarks soon be gone with the wind? Swept off into the dustbin of antiquity? They may hold a fond place in our hearts and remembrances, but they it may be they’ll be pressed into our mental scrapbooks at some point and all but forgotten. I hope not.

Perhaps we’ll be given virtual bookmarks in their place. I suppose that would be better than not having them at all. It might be interesting if, as authors, we got to include custom digital bookmarks that would fade in once you put the reader down and and fade away again with a gesture as you resumed? You could collect them and display them on a bookmark screen somewhere on your homepage and choose which bookmark you wanted to use every time you started a new book.

ketterson's bookmark omaha

Bookmarks with quotes, a wonderful combination.

Maybe that will happen, maybe not. But I am certain that the fate of physical bookmarks is not as bleak as I’ve suggested. Loads of people read loads of paper books every day and their bookmarks are happy companions in the endeavor, tagging along with them like faithful pets. I myself still prefer books of the decidedly physical kind. To mark in, to shove in a backpack, to gaze upon on the shelf. I love the touch and the feel of them, the way the paper goes yellow with time.

Let Me Count the Ways

But beyond my personal attachments to books, there are many reasons I think books (and bookmarks) will stick around. For starters, paper books are just more personal. Your copy is unique to you. Even though the words of all the other copies are the same, none of them will have that bend on page 52 or that tea stain on page 173.

Books are also personal in the sense that for many of us, they function as decoration in our home. Any dedicated reader is bound to have a shelf somewhere full of books and in my case I have several shelves and several walls dedicated to them. Try displaying your e-book collection on a shelf. It’s not all that impressive.

empty bookshelf kindle e-reader

This just doesn’t cut it.

bookshelf nook in hotel

Now that’s more like it.

And finally, for some of us digital books are just harder to remember. Spatial keys are a great way for remembering things. With a physical book, if I underline a passage that I hope to recall at some later day, I can usually remember where it was on the page and then later I can go flipping through the book to find it.

Sometimes, I’ll asterisk really important things or if they’re super super important I’ll asterisk them twice. Sometimes I’ll flip through a book I’ve read and look for comments. Comments are reserved for the really important passages usually and they function a bit like a diary, giving me a window into what I was thinking while reading that book. It’s enlightening to go back years later and rediscover these hidden missives.

Of course many e-readers allow you to make highlights and notes, but it’s just not the same. It’s clunky to type things in or to search through them if you have more than a few piled up. This may change in the future, but for now, I still prefer writing in the margins of a physical book.

may you live every day of your life - jonathan swift

Here’s a metal bookmark from my collection. This one addresses the great weakness of the bookmark: their potential to get ripped or damaged.

So there are a few elements which are lost, or at least diminished with digital books. Don’t get me wrong, I love e-readers as well. The flat screen means you can set them down and read them hands free which it nigh impossible with most books. And I love the new readers with the built in night lights.

But real books will always always be the thing I gravitate towards. They may be more frail, they may be more easy to lose, but their very vulnerability makes them more precious and valuable.

So give me a good book if I’m going to stay up all night and read. Because it won’t hurt as much if I have to sleep on it (at least if it’s a paperback). Because it will grow old and change along with me. Because it will help me remember. And because it will let me use these lovely little things called bookmarks.

Author DJ Edwardson's seal of approval

Comments (4)

  1. The Friends up North February 4, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I love your analysis/review of the faithful bookmark. I love books and the actual touching, marking and flipping of real pages too. I love knowing where I left off even if my bookmark gently falls out upon sleep.

    I also believe that when flipping through pages in a physical reality it makes the characters and their plight seem too exciting to put down and somehow I know exactly where to go back to where I last left off. I believe books and bookmarks are here to stay.

    I also enjoy how a book and the bookcase with other titles may tell of a person and perhaps give us that wee peek into their interests, culture, education and their interests. Something you cannot do with a Kindle. But surely physical books have their reason for existence because they are treasured still in our libraries. Bookmarks also do that too. I collect them and they are a keepsake and witness to the adventures we’ve had in our reading. Well my two bits on this anyway. Thank you, DJ.

    • DJ Edwardson February 4, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      Thanks for those two bits! I’d say they’re pretty valuable.

      Another thing I forgot to mention is that for most of the world, ebooks really aren’t even a factor. The book is still the method of choice for much of the world. I don’t think we’ll be seeing it vanish any time soon. And for that I think we can both rejoice.

  2. Jenelle February 4, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Amen!

    I don’t even own an e-reader, because I just can’t bring myself to want one. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re great, and think that they have done wonders for the world of reading. I read an article recently that said actual book sales are up, and that although lots of people are buying e-book versions, they are still buying paper-books and some of the percentages have even gone up for people buying paper-books. Which I find encouraging.

    A world without “real” books would be very sad. Kind of Farenheit 451-ish. Even if it didn’t mean they were outlawed.

    I liked your tribute to bookmarks. My favorite bookmark right now is a piece of yellow construction paper with orange and green circles colored on it. It’s not perfectly straight, nor is it fancy or expensive. But my 5 year old made it for me with love, so I love it. 🙂

    • DJ Edwardson February 4, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      Ah, the homemade bookmark! Yes, those are extra special.

      I’ve also read in several places that overall book sales are up and that ebook sales have not really cannibalized hard copy sales as much as people had first predicted.

      I suppose in the end, “the story’s the thing” and that however people choose to read it’s just great that they’re reading, but I’m with you on this one. Real books rule!

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