The other day I shared a Facebook meme. It was a two-panel cartoon. On the right panel is a bookmark. On the left panel is everything one might use in place of a bookmark — sticky note, bus ticket, etc. The left side says,” Things I’ve used as a bookmark.” The right side says, “Things I haven’t used as a bookmark.” I shared it so my fellow bibliophiles could have a laugh.
It also made me think. I rarely use actual bookmarks, and only then when someone has given me one. The problem is, one of my particular OCD twists is that whatever I use as a bookmark must stay with the book — forever. If I lend it out, I give clear instructions that whatever is in there must stay there.
I once was given a lovely monogrammed leather bookmark as a gift. I used it in the very next book I read. A while later, the friend who gave it to me saw me reading and using some random thing to mark the pages. “What happened to the bookmark I gave you?” she said. “It’s with the book,” I replied. “But you are supposed to keep using it.” I had to explain how the system works. Needless to say, it’s best not to give me a bookmark as a gift.
The thing is, if anyone ever bothered to look (although why they would I don’t know), my life is in between the pages of the books. I read the complete “Lord of the Rings” on a flight back to England from my first trip to America in 1978. The bookmark is the boarding pass from Houston Intercontinental (it wasn’t called Bush then). My “The Master and Margarita” has the receipt from The Strand bookstore in New York. Exhibition catalogs will mostly have the postcard from the show. My Arshile Gorky biography has both the receipt for the book and the receipt from the oil lube place where I started reading it (just plucked these examples at random from the shelf).
The books are full of English bus tickets, New York metro cards, Spanish meal receipts and letters. They also have doctor’s appointment cards, hospital receipts or simply grocery receipts. If I have a book that doesn’t have a bookmark it means it was more than 20 years ago, I was using it for research (which means it probably has a load of sticky notes or scraps of paper with notes), or I lost the thing, which fills me with a slight mix of sadness and anxiety, like I have lost part of my life somehow (look, I know how nuts I am, just go with it).
My favorite bookmark is lost in the shelves somewhere. I don’t know what book it is, but when my youngest daughter, Trish, first moved to live with her sister in Brooklyn, I went to lunch at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. I knew we would only get to talk between customers and I was in no hurry, so I, of course, brought a book. We chatted, I read, we chatted, I read, then I checked out, signing off for a ridiculously large tip (by the way, until we pay people a proper wage, 20 percent should be required. Don’t be a skinflint).
As it was a new book, I slipped the receipt inside as the bookmark. When I got home, I moved the bookmark from its page to continue reading. I looked at the receipt. On it were the words, Restaurant: Chavelas. Server: Trish.
Just knowing that little memory is on the shelf somewhere makes me happy.