Forgotten bookmarks

We won’t judge a book by its cover… though we might judge it by what’s left among its pages

Shakespeare and co.jpg

Illustration: Jane Mount

A shopping list for a supper with friends, last summer’s postcard, a card advertising a restaurant you don’t remember going to… The things you find you’ve left in books to mark your place, and then forgotten, often bring back a wry smile.

But the things other people have used as bookmarks and then abandoned to the pages can range from the indescribable to the indigestible.

When Washington librarian Anna Holmes tweeted earlier this year: “Dearest patrons, PLEASE stop using cheese as a bookmark. Please. We give away actual bookmarks for free. Or like use a receipt or something. Just not perishables” one would have thought the world would reel, but no.

The world responded with its own tales of bizarre bookmarks they’ve had the misfortune to find: bacon, a circular saw, a piece of broccoli, toenail clippings and a clump of hair.

It turns out forgotten bookmarks are quite a phenomenon. (We’re assuming they’re forgotten and that people aren’t putting deli items into library books intentionally).

To prove it, enter New York State second-hand bookseller Michael Popek, of Forgotten Bookmarks, who catalogues all the strange and wonderful things he has found between the pages of the books that enter his shop.

From four-leafed clovers to a marijuana leaf, love notes to a suicide note (which he chose not to photograph, understandably), each item is a tiny snapshot of an anonymous person’s life and utterly compelling for it. He photographs each object, along with the book he found it in and publishes them together. Sometimes it’s easy to imagine the reader, and the scenario in which the object ended up in the book. One can almost picture the small, slightly grubby little boy who left his Bear Cub Scouting patch inside a copy of Adventure in the Haunted House. Less easy to conjure to mind is the owner of the photograph of a coffin (occupied) inside a copy of Amelia Earhart’s The Fun of It.

Popek has published photos of some of the forgotten bookmarks he has found over the years in a book called, unsurprisingly, Forgotten Bookmarks. We thoroughly recommend it. Don’t forget to take your cheese slice out of it when you’ve finished it though.

And if you’re in search of a new favourite tome in which to lose a slice of cheddar (or worse), you might like to read ‘Looking for Books’ in our November issue, in which Frances Ambler takes an illustrated tour with Jane Mount, author and illustrator of Bibliophile, around some of the world’s best independent bookshops.

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