Our Old Friend the Bookmark
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.