Marking the page

A few weeks ago when I picked up my 8 year-old grandson from primary school I noticed he had a plaster on his knee. ‘What happened there?’ I asked. ‘I found a plaster in a reading book and I put it on because I needed one.’

Elastoplast! Of course, the ideal bookmark. So what else do people find in books to mark their page, I wondered.


From my internet research

Here’s what Margaret Kingsbury found in pre-read books, as a buyer for a used bookstore:

  • Money
  • Rubber bands
  • Toilet paper
  • Handwritten letters
  • Family photographs

You can find her comments in a Book Riot post from earlier this year.

And librarians reported that they found these items:

  • Food
  • Bus and theatre tickets
  • Wine labels
  • Divorce papers
  • Photos
  • Money

These were reported by Claire Fuller, author of Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons, writing in Publishers Weekly. The presence of money in both lists suggests we should be leafing through many more pages as we ponder our next read.

But really people, food? That’s worse than turning down the pages. No really, it is.

Bookmarks I have found

I have found no money, no photos and no food in my books. I have found shopping lists and dried flowers – even dried laurel leaves. There are frequent random slips of paper, cut or torn off something larger but insignificant. I find receipts for the books, or for other items purchased. Not very interesting.

I once found a postcard with details of a change of address in a book I had bought at a second hand store. It seemed poignant, the black and white photograph, the stamp with King George VI’s head, and the neat placing of the two addresses: one for the postman and the other for the recipients. There may have been a story there. What happened when Pauline Jones couldn’t find her friend’s new address? Did they loose touch? I put the card back in the book and have never seen it again.

I tend to use post cards to mark my pages. I expect a fair few have gone to the library, or onto Oxfam’s shelves.

I completed a draft of this post, but within a few days I was in the Oxfam Bookshop when I found this bookmark inside a copy of How it All Began by Penelope Lively. It looks a little special, handmade even, and if you recognise it and want it back get in touch with me via the comments.

One of the characters in my novel [yes I’m still revising it] hides a letter from her lover between the pages of Anna Karenina. The working title of the novel is The Uses of Secrecy. One person’s bookmark is another‘s secret.

Persephone Books provide bookmarks when you buy from their stores. They match the endpapers. Full marks to Persephone Books for understanding the importance of the bookmark. This glorious bookmark for The Squire by Enid Bagnold is Magnolia, from a design for cotton and rayon from 1936.

Over to you …

What do you use to mark your page? What have you found in books?

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Photo Credits:

Bookmark Dean Hochman via / CC BY

Bank note Neal. via / CC BY-NC-SA


Filed under Books, Libraries, My novel, Reading

14 Responses to Marking the page

  1. Although I have plenty of book marks I can still be found using scraps of paper, especially if there is room to right notes on the paper for a review.

    • Caroline

      Sometimes I have both – notes for a review and pretty bookmark.Sometimes it’s whatever comes to hand. But never meat products!

  2. One of my novels is set in a bookshop and my protagonist finds all these kinds of things in second hand books. (I used to work in a bookshop too and found some amazing letters – one of which inspired the novel). Currently I am making fabric bookmarks to put inside my forthcoming novel, which features a woman who is a bit of a Cath Kidston… But I have to confess to turning corners when I read, especially if it’s a second hand book. Or using one of my Persephone bookmarks, have collected a few of those over the years!

    • Caroline

      Thanks Louise. I have a hunch that bookmarks set writers off thinking in lots of different ways. The element of chance is so useful to a novelist, a chance of finding something hidden??
      Your fabric bookmarks sound amazing.Good luck with publication.

  3. I found an old black and white photo of someone at the Eiffel Tower with an unreadable inscription in a book once – set me wondering for ages what the story was behind it….

    • Caroline

      I was hoping someone would come up with something like that, prompted by my post! Thank you so much.
      Now what could have been the story behind that photo? Mmmm

  4. Margaret Hale

    Have twice found ultrasound photos that were several years old. Hope there was a happy ending in both cases.

    • Caroline

      That seems such an unlikely thing to find. I thought ultrasound photos were precious. And twice! If this were a competition, I think you would be winning for most unlikely bookmark!
      Thanks for posting this comment.

  5. Sarah

    Like you Caroline I use postcards and greetings cards. I have some favourites which are well past their currency but are too lovely/interesting/special to throw away. At least one is from you!

    • Caroline

      Hi Sarah, I think I still have the two most recent birthday cards you sent me and last year’s Christmas card on display. Their future is in between the pages of books!
      C xx

  6. Mickey Reid

    In a second hand copy of Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger I found a postcard of Shepherd’s Hotel, Cairo with a chatty note but no address for delivery. The note across the entire back is dated Cairo Feb. 1st 1932 and signed by Dr. Artum or something, illegible. He tells about his travels through Palestine, from Luxon and the Valley of The Kings.
    For myself I find post-it notes that can be moved along to be most useful bookmarks, but not very interesting.

    • Caroline

      That’s impressive and relevant. I wonder how that got there. I expect you kept it. The Egyptian scenes in the novel come during the war, but to have a pc which predates not just the writing but the events in the oven is such a good find.

      Ah yes, post it notes. That would work for review notes and marking the page. I use post-its all the time so I’m not sure why I haven’t thought of this. I like my pcs.
      Thanks for this comment Mickey

  7. Scrap fabric from crafting projects, as well as more obvious paper scraps and sometimes, shockingly, actual book marks.

    • Caroline

      Nice. I’m just bringing my new Christmas Card book marks into use. The nicest ones are hand made.
      Thanks for adding this

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