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    Bookmarks: the definitive ranking.

    James Folta

    June 4, 2024, 2:26pm

    There are as many ways to mark your place in a book as there are opinions about it. The memes and the Dungeons and Dragons alignment charts are fun, but it’s time to get serious and once and for all rank the bookmarks. Let’s go:

    22. As Part of a Brand’s Social Media Campaign

    The lowest form of marking your place in a book is as part of a marketing maneuver to get in on the “Don’t have a bookmark?” meme. Pouring a bunch of dish soap on a book just so you can demonstrate to the internet that your dish soap brand can express a full range of human emotions is wicked behavior.

    You may think of your chocolate chip cookies as having an irreverent, silly, and ironically horny voice, but I don’t have to stoop to indulging your bleak fantasies.

    21. Tearing Part of A Page Off As You Go

    Worse than tearing out entire pages, because it indicates to me that you know better. You are aware on some level that ripping up a book to mark your place is deranged behavior, and are holding yourself back from tearing out whole pages out of shame or propriety.

    Listen to the weak appeal of the weeping angel on your shoulder, and stop.

    20. Tearing Out Pages As You Go

    I know some hikers do this to lighten their packs as they go, but still, I can’t give it a pass.

    19. Laying a Book Facedown for an Extended Period of Time

    Laying your book fully spread-eagled on your bedside table before you go to bed, or splayed ass-up on a counter when you’re done reading before work? This shows me that you’ve reached a level of living in the moment that is becoming irresponsible and a burden on those around you. Repent—there’s still time.

    18. Folding the Entire Book

    Let me explain here: I took a college class where we read a lot of those small, Dover Thrift Editions. There was a guy in the class who would bend all the pages he had read, cover included, in on itself in one big, vertical fold. As he read, his books slowly became dense rolls of paper—I imagine his bookshelf looked like a stacked library of scrolls. Depraved, confusing stuff.

    17. Marking the Page with a Pen or Pencil

    I’ve encountered a few people online claiming they make a small tic or star on a page to mark the end of their reading. Seems like a fine enough strategy if you’re making a lot of margin notes or highlights, but also seems a bit overly difficult, what with all the flipping you’d have to do to locate your place mark again.

    16. Tracking Your Progress in a Spreadsheet

    It’s weird to track your personal stats and data like you’re a scrappy minor league baseball team trying to maximize their potential in a tough division! Don’t be weird!

    15. The Sentence Pointer

    This one appears in that viral alignment chart, but I have never in my life seen one of these. Are they made of rubber or something?

    I suppose if you have one, you ought to use it, but are people really picking up their reading from exactly the spot where they left off? Down to the sentence? The word? Is it not standard to rewind a little, or am I inefficiently reading?

    14. The Flap of a Dust Jacket

    A respectable technique for hardcovers, but if the book is long enough, you’re going to run into trouble in the middle third, when that dust jacket is really stretching out to its full length.

    Also, this bookmarking style always makes it look like a book is covering itself up, like it’s ashamed of its pages. A book should never be made to feel that way about itself.

    13. Laying the Book Facedown For a Minute

    You’re busy, and there’s nothing at hand to pop in there. Splatting the book down on its face is a little brusque, but acceptable in an emergency or for a moment or two.

    12. Finishing The Book

    The decadent solution. The book supplicant’s choice. The layabout’s delight. You have nowhere to be and no obligations, why cut the fun short and stop reading? Simply ignore your life beyond the book—it’ll all be there when you’re done.

    11. Memorizing Your Page Number

    Impressive, but also scary in a boring way. It’s a flex that’s not all that awe-inspiring, and feels like a waste of Mind Palace space.

    10. Dog-earing the Page

    This one might traditionally go lower, since people have such strong opinions on treating books like they’re Fabergé eggs, but despite the widespread disdain, this is behavior that society has deemed fine. It’s the lowest possible way of defacing a book.

    A note: I didn’t realize that this phrasing has been around since the 17th century and used to mean folding and dirtying a page: “to use a book so as to leave the corners of the leaves soiled and curled over.” In this modern age, I think we can all agree to stop at folding and not get any soil in the mix.

    9. Using an Odd Object

    I once saw a guy use a small dumbbell to hold his place in a Franzen novel at the Greenpoint YMCA. I think he was a grad student or something—this guy was always lugging huge books onto the elliptical. One of the weirder bookmarks I’ve seen, but also impressively creative.

    Using whatever’s at hand shows a commitment to a life of reading. Books are a part of your life, and you will bend the rules of bookmarking to accommodate your love.

    8. Using a Normal House Object (Pen, Cellphone, Notebook, Magazine, Other Book, etc.)

    The busy professional and cozy reader’s utilitarian choice. You’ve got to quickly jot a quote down, or need to respond to a text, or refill your coffee—grab whatever’s at hand, you won’t be gone long. The “I’ll be but a moment, my love” of bookmarks.

    7. Using a Post-it Note

    I love seeing a colorful little sticky note popping out of a book. Looks like a little tongue and the book’s making a face at you. Fun!

    6. The Book Ribbon

    As a Library of America stan, I love using a little book ribbon. It feels extremely elegant and dignified. Using a book ribbon, I’m suddenly a distinguished European scholar at the top of his field on the way to the Met Gala. My worries are purely intellectual. I’ve never ordered “the cheapest draft” at a bar and don’t have any opinions, let alone strong ones, on different chip flavors. I would call them “crisps,” anyway.

    Side note: What are we doing with our book ribbons while we’re reading? Leaving it in place? Tucking it behind? Ahead? Letting it hang loose from the spine? Let me know what the in style is, I don’t want to look like a cheugy millennial out here.

    5. Using a Different Bookmark When A Book Has a Ribbon

    A mysterious, rebellious move. Makes the squares and stuffed shirts gasp. This is how James Dean would bookmark his book.

    4. A Leaf or Flower

    Very whimsical, very sexy and not turkey-leg-grease-stained Renn Faire, very lovely day in the park. Chaotic, but like the twisting path of a vine, there’s an unknowable beauty to its chaos. Imagine what you would feel while browsing someone’s personal library and finding books filled with beautifully pressed and preserved flowers. Putting a leaf in your book is something that happens in a flashback sequence, a memory of a time before everything went wrong.

    3. A Proper Bookmark

    They’re the standard for a reason. The Proper Bookmark has one job and it does it damn well. Maybe a child made you one as a gift, maybe it’s a funny one, maybe it’s a bespoke tassels-and-leather item. This is an aesthetic or sentimental choice, but one that makes reading more pleasurable for the bookmarker—admirable.

    2. A Bookmark from a Bookstore, Publisher, Library, Publication, etc.

    The choice of a serious reader, who’s out there supporting bookstores, libraries, and authors. A bookseller tucked this bookmark in for you at checkout, and who are you to rock the boat? You’ve got books to read.

    Show me someone who doesn’t have a dozen bookmarks from a handful of indie bookstores, and I’ll show you someone who only owns books they were gifted.

    1. Scrap Paper, Receipt, Ticket Stub, Transport Ticket, etc.

    The ultimate bookmark, unimposing and personal. It’s utilitarian, pedestrian even, but doesn’t distract from what you’re here to do: read.

    But the reason why this is the ultimate bookmark is that it’s also a personal time stamp, a little note from the past. Open up a childhood paperback and a ticket stub from Men In Black II flutters out, and suddenly you’re whisked back to 2002. Open another and find a ragged piece of envelope and a partial address, and suddenly you’re in your first apartment, finding yourself on your own for the first time. Open a third and you see a receipt from a restaurant in another country, and suddenly you’re on vacation, sharing a meal and laughter with friends.

    A scrap bookmark is a passport stamp—you’re leaving a trail for yourself and for future readers who might find this copy in a free pile or a used bookstore. Who else read this book—maybe this torn piece from a furniture catalog will offer a hint? When a book ends up on a secondhand shelf, a scrap bookmark is a little clue for a new reader, creating a small link through time and space between readers. Beautiful.

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