You can tell I’m a serious reader, not one of the rank amateurs who merely picks up the latest mass market paperback for airplane or beach reading or who parrots lines from the latest hot talk show host book club’s recommendation so I can sound smart at card parties. No, it’s not the fact that I carry snapshots of my library instead of my children to show to random coffee shop patrons. My continual enumeration of the books I read each year and my easy answer to questions of what I’ve read lately don’t give me away. The identifier that signals my serious pursuit of letters, which can often include mass market paperbacks and hardback thrillers amid the serious highsnoot stuff, is my good bookmark.
Make no mistake, I own more than my share of the common paper bookmarks that blizzard any book buyer. I have colorful, bag-stuffing scrips of paper with the names of the large chain bookstores and the large Internet bookstores. I have many folded, worn used bookstore bookmarks from shops I have visited in myriad cities across the country. I even have several from used bookstores that I’ve never visited that came with books I bought elsewhere. I have a couple of bookmarks enclosed with unsolicited fundraising appeals; I didn’t send money, but I kept the bookmarks. We even have one or two congratulatory bookmarks given for elementary or middle school achievements floating around here. All get their usage between book covers.
During my reading lifetime, I’ve not been particular about separating the pages where I last imbibed the language with a piece of refined bookmarkery. I’ve used envelopes, receipts, the odd note page, napkins, smaller books, and other varied materiel to let myself know where to resume and to mark for the world exactly how many pages’ worth of wisdom I bore. When one is away from home, one must make do with what nature and its descendent civilization provide. When I am at home, I prefer to use a real bookmark, and for the main book I am reading at any time, I use the good bookmark.
I speak its very name with reverence, as one speaks of the good china. This good bookmark bears my last initial stamped into the top and looks to be brass. The front side shines brightly, and the rear displays a handsome sheen of green paint. Like all good things, it is formal and practical at once.
I received this particular bookmark as a graduation gift when I matriculated from high school. No doubt, my distant aunt bought the bookmark at the bookstore when she was buying my gift certificate and impulsively added the five dollar’s worth of finery to my gift. Regardless, it not only bore my initial, but it became mine.
Almost twenty years later, the memories of most gifts from that era have faded after the utility or quality of the gifts faded or failed. I’m sure I spent the accumulated capital on used books as I bought reading material for the interim summer. I wore the clothes, played the harmonica a couple of times, and I forgot the thoughtful or thought-free presentations of friends and family. But the bookmark lives on.
The bookmark retained some of its mint condition by spending much of the 1990s in a complete collection of Emily Dickinson’s work, somewhere in the middle 700s of her numbered list. A few years ago, during one of the periods when I continued my trek through the wilderness of poor capitalization, I swapped out the good bookmark for a pair of bookmarks—one to tell me where I am, and one to tell me how long I had to go to finish the hundreds of poems Dickinson wrote in 1865.
So while those bookmarks spend the next decade in the Dickinson, I use the good bookmark now for my primary reading material. It lends a certain air of class to my reading, elevates my place marking. Anyone who invests in or continues to use an actual piece of metal to mark a place in a book obviously plans to mark a lot of books with a permanent artifact.
I’ll have to remember again to thank my aunt, long after she has forgotten the gift.