Many a time I can be found wandering around the house searching for books for my lost bookmarks. I have a terrible habit of leaving bookmarks in the books I complete telling myself that I’ll remember where I kept it in the future, and a month later I’m looking through every book for it. I have quite a good bookmark collection, thanks to others. When people couldn’t figure out a good book to gift me that I hadn’t yet read, they bought me a bookmark because it’s a safe and useful option.
Every reader in the world knows that anything can be a bookmark. I’ve so far used hairclips, bills, pens, erasers, cellphones, another book, rulers, bracelets, my glasses, the TV remote, hair brushes, cups, coasters, so on and so forth. Everything has the potential to be a bookmark. A bookmark is the pause button for a book. You can come back, tuck the bookmark behind another page and continue reading.
Every time I come across another one of my lost bookmarks in a book, I smile. I think a part of me leaves it there like those who scale mountains pin a flag on the peak, it’s a badge of completion. Lately though as my bookmark options have grown wilder, I’ve begun retrieving them, and they have aged like the pages, a light coat of dust telling me I’ve not been around for too long. In some books where I left them, they’ve left their mark on the pages, an impression if you please.
I have a feeling if I end up selling one of my books in the future, the person who buys it will find a bookmark in one as a token. When I visit second-hand bookshops I smile when I find flowers, leaves, or a little note between the pages of an old book, or a library stamp with a faded date. I feel like I am privy to another story, not just the story the author wrote but the story of the book itself.
There’s so much of ourselves we leave behind wherever we go, we don’t even realise it. Crime thrillers tell us about fingerprints and DNA samples, but our identities are so much more. Nobody is invisible, as much as we’d like to be. When I see people reading on their Kindles and laptops, I wonder, will they stop and find comfort in the smell of a book? Will they feel the coarse page between their fingers? Will they revel in the sound of a spine of a book opening for the first time? They’ll swipe through pages only reading the words. Will they understand the value and the point of the changes in the book covers, the original covers and the covers now? Some of them would.
I still love having to compromise on clothes to make space for more books in my suitcase. I still love comparing editions and maintaining the books in good condition. Technology is great, I don’t have to worry about space or weight, I don’t have to worry about my books getting spoilt. Yet, I only feel right when I have the spine in my hands and having to find that perfect position in which your eyes don’t strain and your wrist won’t hurt from holding the book up for too long.
Lately, with so much going on, this quest for bookmarks has refreshed me. It took me a while to accumulate my collection of books. From standing on the tallest stool to reach some of my Dad’s old books from the top shelf because I was too short, to standing on my tip toes and now just having to reach up. I’ve gone from owning brightly-coloured books to old, brown hardcovers with as much as a few words on the cover and no images. I’ve grown from having skinny books with large writing to fat bricks of books in fine print. Even the glasses I wear are a mark of my reading habit, like battle scars on soldiers, and blisters on a runner’s foot.
It’s always what lies between the pages, not just the words and the punctuation marks, books are so much more than that. A book never stops at the last full stop, there’s a story beyond it that an author lets you fill in. It’s what you take away from between the pages that stay with you even after you finish the book. You might forget the details of the stories, the dates and some quotes. The characters seem like acquaintances from your past, those childhood friends you wonder about today, where did they go? What are they doing now? But you remember the feeling you got from reading the book, you know what it meant to you even if you disliked the story.
Perhaps I’m getting carried away, maybe to some who are reading this I make no sense. To be honest, I am using books to compensate for my nervousness about tomorrow, for the questions I can’t find answers to. I want to reside between the covers of my books, like the bookmarks I left there and be forgotten so that someone might find me sleeping there after the hard times have passed. So that my story might be completed, and as the bookmark, I’m left there my purpose met.
I always look to books for comfort, for a shield. I’ve used books to fill my time, to make up for a lack of friends and a lack of self-esteem even as a reason to stay quiet. I let the characters distract me from my life spiralling out of my control. I let the author tell me about a world I hadn’t seen yet. My bookmarks remained between those pages as a souvenir for the book that had been my friend, something to remember me by. As I pluck them from between pages today, all I know is, I’m going to find them all new homes and place them between new pages. In a way I guess by moving the bookmarks I’m moving on too.