The bookmarks hang around the house, mocking me.
Yeah, bookmarks are mean.
They are not just the rigid piece of rectangular paper that lets you know how much more you need to read before the end of the chapter.
no. They are the Greek Chorus of Literary Derision. They are laughing at your ass.
While putting books away on overstuffed shelves, I invariably come across some book that has a bookmark in it. It’s a reminder that here is another book I haven’t finished.
The book mark is that silent nudge that pantomimes laughter at my inability to finish a damned book anymore.
What with streaming old TV shows, to watching YouTube videos on how to make money from dryer lint, to my editor’s important Instagram posts, who has time for reading anything more than a menu on the DoorDash app?
But the bookmarks look on and smirk their papery smirks. And it makes me blame myself. Why didn’t I finish that book?
Was I distracted? Was the book over my head? Was it too simple? Did it have too many words? Was I so taken with the beauty of that last read paragraph, there was no way for me to ever continue to the next page?
I might want to start up the book, but it might have been months since I read it, and I have no idea what is going on and so I have to start from the beginning.
And there is the presence of the bookmark. You can almost hear it say, “It looks like you won’t need me here. I guess I’ll have to go back to Chapter One. Oh well.”
Sometimes the bookmarks are really sneaky. They are showing in a place of the book I haven’t gotten to. Many times, a good bookstore will put their own branded bookmark in a book. I will discover it and realize that I have not read to this part. I haven’t even started.
Do books feel better with bookmarks placed deep into the volume? Are they hoping the other books will think of them as ones of those “Being Read” books? As opposed to the books that just gather unopened dust.
Bookmarks are mostly pieces of advertising. They have the logo of independent bookstores. If you have enough books, you will be greeted with the sensation of seeing the bookmark for a shop that went out of business. You hold that piece of paper like it was a fading echo.
Or they will have a quote from a kinda famous writer about the joys of reading. You will have Einstein’s opinion on reading, as if some of that genius will rub off. Or if not him, a picture of Hermione Granger reading. “Books are Magic!”
Of the kiddie bookmarks with the yarn tassel on top. They show Snoopy or Heathcliff. Some bookmarks have punny jokes on them. Like the kids want to use bookmarks with Dad Jokes written on them?
There are shmancy bookmarks. They can be 3D or be a signed limited edition bookmark from a favorite writer or artist. Bookmarks can be high art. It’s profound and it helps me not lose my place.
I will often use whatever paper I have around. Magazine subscription cards have been used as bookmarks in this house. And receipts. I am repurposing those insane pharmacy receipts. I’m upcycling.
Not so long ago, I was going through a book and found a receipt from Tower Records, from around 1998. And if I read anything in that book, I have no memory of it.
I do like bookmarks from bookstores. It is a journal of where I went for my books. The places that gave the secret password. There are books here. There are stories to take home with you. Don’t worry about not finishing the story this evening. You can mark your place. You can put a flag down as if to say, “I was here.”
David Macpherson is a poet and writer living in the Worcester area. His ebooks include “Poetry in Bars: A Slurred Manifesto,” “Gin and Tonics Across Worcester” and “The Library of Disposable Art: Volume One.”