What a plastic lizard, receipts and fringed leather have in common

Book and bookmark

Image: Pixabay

I’m not a book purist in many ways.

I love a bit of genre  – fantasy, sci-fi, New Wave-existential-garbage-horror – I have time for them all.

I won’t turn my nose up at writers who are regularly slated on social media because their writing isn’t deemed to be of high enough quality to sell the numbers they do – J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown … even E.L James won’t find her ears burning when I’m around.

They’ve all sold millions more books than I have which means they have a gift for something – Dan Brown’s books are true page turners, J.K Rowling has a fantastic imagination and E.L James tapped into the e-mucky-book market like no one before or since. (Though e-mucky-books sounds like a Yorkshireman describing a novel after it’s been dropped in a puddle, which may well be a genre of its own one day.)

I’m not even against people writing on books – their own books, mind, not school’s, not those borrowed from the library or lent by a friend. The greatest minds in the arts and sciences annotated books (Sylvis Plath, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Jack Kerouac all scribblers) so I see nothing wrong with it. It shows the reader has engaged with the text, which is always what a writer hopes for.

This very comment will have my mother in law reaching for the smelling salts like a heroine in a melodramatic Gothic novel with an over-tightened corset. When I was studying for my degree, she discovered I annotated my texts books and her horrified face was something to behold – I actually think she gasped.

And inherited annotations can be fascinating. Seeing what a previous owner thought of a particular section, seeing the ideas expanded on or questioned by later minds is part of the joy of buying second hand. Even if it’s only to read

To Spencer, have a wonderful birthday, love Gramma Joan

still fills my heart with an extra chip of joy.

And yet to see a turned down page makes me twitch. I have to stop myself from slapping my son’s hand when he does it.

What’s the matter with finding a bookmark?

I want to cry.

A bookmark doesn’t have to be anything posh either. I’ve had cardboard, fringed leather (usually those National Trust ones with pictures of manor houses on), fabric, embroidered, brass and a few nice steel bookmarks – one blade-like my husband bought me, now sadly gone to wherever the good bookmarks go – with which I could act out vampire slayer fantasies when no one was looking. But when backed into a bookmarkless corner I’ve used


shopping lists

flyers for frozen food outlets 

playing cards

Post-it notes


and on one not so successful occasion, a plastic reptile of unspecified species with a very long spiky tail and a loud squeak in his belly.

How do you feel about annotation and turned down corners? Do you have a selection of lovely bookmarks to draw on  or will you use a slice of yesterday’s pizza if necessary?