Read, mark, learn…

I sometimes think, regarding potential topics for SiaB, “oh, you’ve covered that Si, no need for another post.”  But then I remember how different my readership is now from when I started (although there is some overlap, of course) and it is entirely possible (ahem) that you missed my post from 2nd June 2007.  I’ll forgive you for that.  It did, I should warn you, include the phrase ‘independent, non-contingent paratextual elements’ – but fear not, I was speaking in jest, and the topic was… bookmarks.

I imagine there are few corners of the world where a discourse upon bookmarks would be welcome… but I do you the honour of supposing that blog-readers belong in one such corner.  Recently my book group discussed how we marked pages.  A disconcerting number of them were happy enough to turn down the corners of pages (VERY NO) and nobody at all used bookmarks – just the nearest train ticket or envelope, or nothing at all.

Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that I take a different approach.

There is a little stash of postcards, particularly art postcards, by my bed.  When I start a new book, I have a rummage through these to find a postcard which works well with the book I’m reading.  That might be thematic or (more often) colour palette – basically anything which matches the spirit of the book.  It would feel quite discordant if I did otherwise…

So here are some examples… there are so many I could have chosen, but these were the first that came to mind.  I was reminded of the topic by the suitability of the postcard I used for A View of the Harbour:

I do have another boats postcard somewhere, but I think it’s fallen victim to a common curse – when I finish the book, I reshelve it but forget to extricate the postcard.  Maybe I should check through all my maritime novels?  The Waves by Virginia Woolf, Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi, Sisters By A River by Barbara Comyns…

Here are a few more, to whet your appetite.  For all those old red hardbacks I read (and there are plenty from the 1930s) this Lowry postcard comes in handy…

…when I was reading Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy, I was struck by how appropriate this postcard was. Although the novel’s Eduard Keller is not, naturally, Andre Derain (as painted by Henri Matisse) I could easily picture Keller in this way.  Plus, the turquoise of the painting perfectly matched the turquoise of the spine – which was, after all, the reason I originally pulled Maestro off the shop shelf.

So, I’ve exposed the peculiar tangents of my bibliophilia… do *any* of you do the same?  Even a little?  Or am I in my own strange corner…?

And let me know if you’d like to see any more…

51 thoughts on “Read, mark, learn…

  • March 27, 2012 at 11:21 pm
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    I love your thematic matching…a great use for lovely postcards. I do have some fancy purpose-made bookmarks that I like to use, and I also have a great fondness for the little sample cards at perfume counters – they make great scented bookmarks. My husband talks a lot about bookmarks on his blog as well, and the various items that are used as such.

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    • March 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm
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      Wow, your husband has made an art of the bookmark, it's wonderful! And what a brilliant use of sample cards, lovely.

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  • March 28, 2012 at 12:10 am
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    I've always been content with just folding down the corners when there's not a scrap of paper near by, but this idea of yours is lovely! Honestly, I'm a bit struck by how gorgeous and simple it is. I'm thinking I may pick up some postcards in the near future :)

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    • March 28, 2012 at 3:11 pm
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      Brilliant! If I can save some books from having their corners turned down… ;) Just kidding – but it is a simple way of making reading even more fun!

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  • March 28, 2012 at 1:21 am
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    Love your idea. I do like my bookmarks to be somewhat color-coordinated to the book, but if I'm away from my reading corner when I start one, I will use anything handy until I get home for one, but I most definitely will NOT be folding down any corners! (shuddering as I type)

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    • March 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm
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      Well shuddered, ma'am!

      I should have guessed that I was not the only person in the blogging/blog-reading world who cared what they put in their books, shouldn't I?

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  • March 28, 2012 at 1:43 am
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    There is a small basket that sits on one of my bookcases with a handful of bookmarks in it. Each new book means a trip to the basket to see which one themes best with it. You are most definitely not in your own strange corner! And each week I change up the postcards on my locker door at work, it's fun to rummage through images isn't it?

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    • March 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm
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      Lovely – come and share my corner, Darlene! It really is fun. Sometimes I think that Matisse, for example, probably would be horrified at his works of art being used to mark books – but, on the other hand, perhaps he would be delighted?

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  • March 28, 2012 at 2:37 am
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    What lovely pairings! I have piles of bookmarks and postcards sitting around but most of the time I end up using library receipt slips. These work wonderfully for me because I can then tear a thin strip off the end of the slip whenever I want to mark a page with a quote or idea I want to include in my write-up. This means that for very, very good books I might rip up several receipt slips, if there are a great number of pages I feel need marking!

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    • March 28, 2012 at 6:55 am
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      Claire, I do this too!

      Simon, I love the idea of pairing appropriate postcards with texts. I have used postcards to mark my spot in the past, but only occasionally. After this post, however, I think I'll do so more often. I inevitably lose bookmarks, so I've given up on the institution at this point in my reading life.

      Bending back covers, turning down corners of pages: these are both major no-no's in my book (pun not intended). Respect the book! It is a vessel of brilliance. ;)

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm
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      Claire, I have now developed an aversion to any receipt, ticket, scrap of paper being used – it makes me feel like I'm not investing in the reading experience – ridiculous, isn't it?! But it is good for marking pages, of course – I make my pencil notes, but if I only have a pen, I jot down page numbers on the back of the postcard, and invariably forget to look at them later. I usually forget to write down the book title too, so months later I have a postcard with a series of meaningless numbers on it…

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm
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      Diana – I wish you well with this!
      And 'vessel of brilliance' – what a perfect phrase, I love it (and agree!)

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  • March 28, 2012 at 3:02 am
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    I like the idea of using pretty bookmarks, but I do sometimes end up with library receipts or scraps of paper. My favorite thing to use is a pretty ribbon because they don't tend to slip out easily, which sometimes happens with more standard bookmarks when I'm carrying a book around in my purse.

    But I'm afraid I must also admit to being a dog-earer, not to hold my place in a book, but to mark pages I might want to refer to later if I don't have a pen handy. (Yes, I just heard you gasp at that.) I am fully in Ann Fadiman's carnal book lover camp, unless it's a particularly nice edition of a book.

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm
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      Ribbons are lovely for bookmarks – don't we all love it when a book has a ready-made ribbon-bookmark attached? I have a couple of bookmarks an efriend homemade for me, and they have ribbons attached – lovely!

      I love that essay by Fadiman and, as you know, am definitely a courtly lover!

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  • March 28, 2012 at 3:02 am
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    I have a lovely collection of bookmarks and I would NEVER, NEVER turn down corners of pages……AWFUL! ARR in Virginia

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  • March 28, 2012 at 3:33 am
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    I have lots of bookmarks and I do tend to match them to the tone of the book I'm reading though sometimes it just ends up being whichever one I was using the the book I just finished. However! You have just given me a fantastic idea. I have the box of Penguin postcards and, while they wait for me to figure out how to display them, I think I will use them as bookmarks! Then I can enjoy them right now … which I really want to do. Thanks, Simon!

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm
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      I can't believe (actually, I CAN believe) how many of you do the same thing as me, in matching the tone! Penguin postcards are perfect for this – plus, you'll get to see them more often. Wouldn't it be fun to use one for the book depicted?

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  • March 28, 2012 at 4:00 am
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    Jeepers, Simon, you are GLORIOUS. How I love your meanderings through the minutiae of book lovers' lives…

    I am becoming an addict. Your reviews are pertinent and ever thoughtful, and most definitely wise beyond your years. But the best part is your joie de vivre. You are one of life's half-full people. I look forward to your reviews, your news, your views… Love it all,

    janey

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm
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      Janey! What a lovely, lovely comment – it did make my day. :) I decided, before I started blogging, that I would always keep my blog a positive, cheerful place – and do my best to do so!

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  • March 28, 2012 at 8:21 am
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    What a lovely idea. I use anything from bookmarks to torn off scraps of paper and if it's a review copy then just the press release that came with it.
    I have always wanted to build up a beautiful collection of bookmarks to choose from though.

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm
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      and now you have carte blanche to buy lots of bookmarks!

      I have to admit to getting rid of press releases instantly, because they're almost always bigger than the book, and get scrunched etc… so I lose the info, for aesthetic reasons…!

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  • March 28, 2012 at 9:22 am
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    I like to use whatever comes to hand — usually a train ticket, letter, bill or similar — and leave it in the book after I've finished. That way I have a reminder of what life was like when I was reading the book. Recently I took my Penguin copy of Don Quixote down from shelves and found a ticket from the Jan 1980 FA Cup game between Arsenal and Brighton that was used as a bookmark. It brought back memories — and was evidence of how much cheaper it was to watch football back then …

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm
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      That is a nice idea – leaving it there. I did think about keeping a list on each postcard of which books it had marked, but have yet to do so… not too late, I suppose!

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    • March 29, 2012 at 8:05 pm
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      I've never used train tickets myself but I love the idea of opening a book and finding a memento from a bygone time. A couple of years ago, my mum ordered a secondhand copy of Nevil Shute's Requiem for a Wren, and when it arrived she found a train ticket dated 1941 inside it, with a soldier's name on it :)

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  • March 28, 2012 at 11:29 am
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    I use postcards too & also Christmas/birthday cards I like, not to mention bus tickets, till receipts, & manky bits of old paper! I will confess to having not read your post from 2007.However, if there was any much more in this ilk, 'independent, non-contingent paratextual elements', this may have been a blessing.:)

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm
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      What, you mean you're not interested in Genette's theories of paratexts?! ;)

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  • March 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm
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    I have 3000 books in my library and I have a goal that every book should have its own bookmark so when I take it off the shelf it will be there. No turning down pages. I use cards people send00 me, cutting off just the illustration and not all the corny writing on some of them. Only if I like the illustration. Not many Christmas cards. Lots of post cards, theatre/movie tickets and souvenirs from travels. As I travel which is quite often it seems I pick up flyers and cards etc from various places. As I have over a thousand Penguin books and they are small I like the smaller souvenir cards as postcards are too big for them. Don't like them hanging over the side of the pages. Enjoyed your photos, would love to see more.

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    • March 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm
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      A bookmark for every book – now Pam, that is a brilliant idea!

      I do have some nice bookmarks and when I can find them I like to choose one which suits the mood of the book. But usually I can't find them, or even an old ticket, so I end up with no bookmark and just trying to remember roughly where I got to when I last finished reading. Actually it works surprisingly well.

      As for dog-earing – shudder! I should love to be a carnal book-lover, as Teresa and Ann Fadiman put it, but I am just too mimsy.

      Helen (gallimaufry)

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm
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      Pam – what a wonderful goal, and brilliant idea!

      I'll take photos when I especially like my book/bookmark pairing, and do another post in a few months' time, I think :)

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm
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      Helen – my housemate never uses bookmarks, on the principle that if she's enjoying a book, she should be able to find her place… weird to me, as a principle, but understandable if there are none around!

      I love Fadiman's essay on courtly vs. carnal readers – so perfectly captures two sides of the book loving world.

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  • March 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm
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    I like to use special bookmarks too, and often these will be postcards I've acquired or bought, although not always relating to the text. I love it when I borrow a library book or buy a second hand book and find something 'special' inside, and one of the reasons that I love Persephone books is that the reader is provided with a bookmark to match the end papers. I do have a 'Greenery Street' postcard too.
    When an author dies, I cut the Obit. from the paper and slip it inside one of their books (assumimg I have one.) Turning down the corner of a page in a book is something I would NEVER do!

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm
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      I do love those Persephone bookmarks – such a good idea.

      I have never clipped in any newspaper cuttings myself, but I've often bought secondhand books where someone else had done so – which is lovely. Occasionally they've added a clipping for which I can see no relevance at all – an intriguing puzzle!

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  • March 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm
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    I detest the habit of turning book corners down, as a librarian I found it really annoying that people did not realise they were despoiling the book by doing this. I myself have a collection of bookmarks that I use as the mood takes me.

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm
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      Amen! At least most of my dog-earing friends would never do it to a borrowed book.

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  • March 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm
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    I thought I was the only one who did this…so happy to see there are others! I have a variety of postcards and bookmarks that I use in the same way. And if I can't find one that feels right, I have been known to make one.

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:46 pm
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      Isn't it fun that so many of us seem to do this? I am surprised by how many of us do! How lovely to make your own, too :)

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  • March 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm
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    I love this idea! I don't have enough bookmarks/art cards/postcards to do this myself, but I love looking at your pictures.

    While I would NEVER dog-ear a page (*cringe*), I more or less use whatever bookmark is handy, from the few I do have. You would probably shudder at some of my, er, thematic pairings. For example, my copy of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation (course text – not my idea of pleasure reading) contained a cheery, purple-paisley Persephone bookmark . . . which has now been relocated to Kierkegaard. At least the Kierkegaard has a purple spine. They almost match, color-wise.

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm
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      You need to go and buy yourself handfuls of art postcards, obviously! It's nice to find some purpose for them – since I always seem to buy them in galleries, and for years had no idea what to do with them, until this struck me as a nice idea.

      I adore your Kierkegaard/Persephone pairing! Might rather surprise both of them.

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  • March 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm
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    OH yes, bookmarks, even if they are a streetcar transfer, tell a story. Postcards, appropriate Christmas cards, even the library printout (which I save all of to remind me which books I've checked out and perhaps read, at least long enough to do a quick write-up in my "Books Read" — and not read — journal)

    My partner, on the other hand, tears a strip off the corner of a newspaper, which I will cavalierly toss out if I find it lying around. I've offered him REAL bookmarks but he declines. He doesn't get it.

    At least he doesn't turn down the corners.

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm
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      Thank Heaven for small mercies! The bookmark does seem to appeal to those who really love reading, rather than those who are more casual about it – curious, but perhaps just an extension of loving the whole reading process.

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  • March 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm
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    This post made me laugh! You are so thoughtful and organized in your system. I respect it, but it's not my style. I do have a method that's important to me, though. I cut used printer paper into quarters to use the blank side as scratch paper, and these quarter sheets are everywhere ready to be bookmarks. I keep a pen handy, too, and make notes on my bookmarks: words, concepts or people I want to look up, along with page numbers so I can reread the passage later with context or greater knowledge; pages and passages I might wish to quote; and (rarely) concepts that belong in my book review. (I usually review without notes at all.) You are right on about not folding corners down, though! And in pinch of course I'll use a receipt or ticket or whatever lies around; but I feel pretty strongly about my scratch paper squares. :)

    I used to use photos: 3×5 or wallet sized, of my loved ones, so I always had them nearby. I've switched to the notetaking system now, but it's always a joy to find a photo of a loved one in a book, don't you think?

    I wonder if you'd be interested in Forgotten Bookmarks by Michael Popek. He is a used bookseller (the books are used, he is not used. maybe he is used, I don't know) who became interested in all the scraps people leave in books. As a librarian, I'm familiar with this phenomenon too. Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes sad or telling, and sometimes just gross. (I am against toilet paper as bookmark. Even unused.)

    And here's an anecdote for you: at the hospital library where I work, I had a man come in and tell me he found a receipt in a book in a waiting room that had his name and credit card info on it – from four years previous – and he was quite sure he had never read that book. Funny world, no?

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm
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      What a funny comment – especially on the used bookseller! I haven't heard of his book, but I am interested…

      How strange about the credit card info – and, indeed, rather terrifying…

      Your system sounds incredibly organised! I am rather more haphazard in what gets chosen, so long as something is chosen – your way would make note taking much easier – although I'd be sure to lose the paper before I wrote up a review.

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  • March 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm
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    You are a reader after my own heart Simon!I have a huge cache of bookmarks that I go through when I start a new book looking for just the right one. I usually match by the mood the book projects, but sometimes subjectmatter, when I have an author bookmark, I always use that when reading the author (Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf for instance).

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    • March 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm
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      I love how many of us do this! Such fun!
      And how funny – Virginia Woolf is the only author-postcard amongst my pile of art postcards, so naturally she goes into whichever Woolf I'm reading! Although I think she might be missing at the moment… quite a few of them do go missing. Virginia is probably in one of her own novels, though, so it's not too bad.

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  • March 30, 2012 at 11:45 pm
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    I don't know if this is the same man Julia mentions above, but there is a wonderful blog called Forgotten Bookmarks that features photos of the things found in books by a used bookseller. Some of them really tell a story in themselves.

    You can probably find the blog via google.

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  • March 30, 2012 at 11:56 pm
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    How lovely. I never ever fold down a page and get a little upset when that has been done to a book I've bought secondhand. I use a combination of actual bookmarks, pretty postcards (I like the free promotional ones from bookshops) and random receipts/tickets/bits of paper. The advantage of the latter is that you can leave it in the book and when you reread you are reminded of the time in your life when you last read it.

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  • March 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm
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    lovely idea Simon I use penguin postcards at moment ,all the best stu

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  • March 31, 2012 at 6:18 pm
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    The one and only time I've intervened in anyone else's child-rearing habits was when my 12 yr old niece told me her father (my brother) said it was okay to dog-ear pages. We had to have a serious sit-down (niece & I – if my brother still hasn't learned anything in all these years' exposure to my excellent reading habits, I've given him up for a lost cause…) I think she and her sister know better how, though.

    On a brighter note, you've inspired me to raise my game regarding bookmarks! So many fun things you can find in older editions – although it saddens me nowadays to pull an old find off the shelf and see the original receipt from some wonderful bookstore now long-gone…
    Brigitte

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