Living Bookmarks

We are living bookmarks–inserted–nestled–invested–personally, professionally, and purposely into the books that have helped to shape us as lifelong readers and as part of the larger reading community of which we are a part.

Take a look at any one of the books in your TBR stack. I know my audience. And I know such a stack exists. I know my audience so well, I don’t have to define the terms of TBR. We know these initials. They are as endearing as they are demanding. It’s just to your left or right allowing you to move freely forward from your reading chair.

I’ll bet at least one of those books has a bookmark in it right now. Bookmarks are funny. They take on many forms and shapes from utilitarian to unique in their design.

Receipts you pick up along the way make excellent bookmarks. Particularly for those recently purchased books as you steal a moment across from the Cinnabon–you know, just to read the forward or the first chapter. Maybe your bookmark is the very credit card receipt that you used to purchase the book you are reading RIGHT NOW (and others as everyone knows you are not to be trusted in a bookstore with a credit card).

Maybe you even chuckle when the store personnel ask if you want the receipt with you or in the bag. I quietly think, “I’d like it with me–in the book.”

Maybe your bookmark is a gift from a friend. Our friends have long given up on trying to find books we have not read and have now become our best source of bookmarks. Book lovers know that the couple of dollars that go toward bookmarks could easily go toward another book. So, to all of my students who have brought back a book mark from their vacation to give to me, I thank you. I have them from Hawaii. I have them from Disney World. I have them from some place in Wisconsin I’ve never heard of but your uncle lives there and you just knew I would love the bookmark with the Emerson quote.

I have a friend who refers to her “porcupine books.” When I read professionally, I am using whatever sticky notes and tabs are immediately available. I have some books that have so many sticky notes and tabs sticking out of them that they actually begin to look like psychedelic, pulpy porcupines. Many a time, I’ve watched a student lift a sticky note gingerly to finish a page, tenderly stick it back in place, looking up to silently say, “I didn’t move it.” It’s then that I quietly communicate back to the young reader, “Good. We have an understanding then.”

Maybe your bookmark is the meticulously-folded silver gum wrapper that extends just a little above the page, which is really more of a homage to Yukon Cornelius, and if they made golden gum wrappers, I’d fold them together with silver ones so I could find them again as I turned the pages. When page turns become peppermint memories, it’s Christmas every day for readers.

Which reminds me of the time good friend, Barry Lane, gave my children these wind-up butterfly bookmarks. Perhaps you’ve seen them. You wind the little rubber band of this thin paper butterfly and then stick the butterfly into the margin of a book. When the book is opened, the butterfly comes flying out. They’re great fun really.

Receipts simply tumble out of the book and float to the ground. This is no less beautiful when it happens.

Open the book.

Look kids, a receipt.

Maybe you just stopped to reading your book to come by here to read this post. I thank you. And I am going to keep this short so you can get right back to it. But look at the bookmark. Is it, in fact, your finger?

Ever put your whole hand and forearm in a book to hold your place momentarily?

Ever balance an open book upon your leg making the book look as though it were trying to consume your knee?

Ever fallen asleep on the couch or in a hammock only to wake to find the book still open to the page where sleep won out in the end? Before the end?

We are–and can be–living bookmarks. Wedged within the words of the books we read and share.

Can you begin to sense this? When you share a Shakespearean line or a quote from a work you are sharing with younger readers. You are showing where you marked that book and where that book marked you.

And listen. . .we readers. . .people have our mark already. They come to us looking for titles and they often preface interactions with “Listen, I just have a short minute to share” knowing that conversations with us will take a topical turn toward the tomes.

I’m going to keep this under one thousand words today. I promise.

But I want to think about how WE are the living bookmarks within our learning communities and our schools. WE shape the reading culture. There are other book marks–like lexiles and reading management-approved title indicators that want and wish they had what it took to create a sense of lifelong reading in the students that one passionate reader adviser and reading friend does.

And if you ever need a measure of whether or not you are creating lifelong reading habits within your learning community, you need not look at the scores, the data, the indicators.

You need to look at the bookmark that came back with the book that reader just brought back.

It’s the folded page out the planner that had to do in a pinch.

Your receipt for the plan.

It’s the permission slip that was supposed to go home.

Your receipt for the permission.

I’ll bet it’s the worksheet that didn’t get handed in last marking period.

Your receipt for the procrastination.

And that the book came back to you with a request for another?

Well. . .that’s just the payoff that comes.

Of having been inserted–nestled–invested–personally, professionally, and purposely in books yourself.

You living bookmark, you.

Go mark another page.

11 thoughts on “Living Bookmarks

  1. How did you get inside my head like that?? My head was nodding in agreement the entire time I was reading this post. And one of the great thing about this post is that it describes my middle daughter as well. She, like me, is a living book mark, and I love it!

  2. Paul – As a child, I tried never to use a bookmark. It was like some personal competition to see if I could finish the book before needing to leave it with a bookmark. As an adult, I use sticky notes and receipts and often times anything available as a bookmark. When I left my school in June, every student in the school made me a bookmark. Their question – Did I have enough books to go with every bookmark. I assured them that I did have enough books to do even 2 books per the 400 bookmarks. But they knew me well. Thanks for sharing.

  3. How much do I love this, Paul? THIS M. U. C. H. This is brill and fab and so important.

  4. Beautiful post! It’s great to be a living bookmark. There’s also no greater feeling than when a book truly marks you and makes an impact on your being. Loved reading your perspective!

    I have discovered you today via Katherine and i am so thankful. I hope I am a “living bookmark” for the children I teach. I know that my main goal is to instil a love of reading in those children.
    Thank you.

  6. Love this post. We were out to eat one night a couple years ago and managed to completely lose the check for our meal between its arrival and paying it. We looked everywhere – under the table, among the dirty plates…we made sure no one was sitting on it. The wait staff double checked the garbage to make sure no one threw it out by accident. Nope – it had vanished. They were just getting ready to write up a new one when my daughter looked up from her book. “Oh! Were you looking for this?” She’d used it as a bookmark.

  7. Oh, I am there in your post, to be sure! Thanks for putting our habits and passions to paper so eloquently.

  8. Thank you! Sometimes it’s lonely doing the writing–and this post brings my focus back to the reality that we are all in this together.

  9. Oh my gosh…this is beautiful! I just smiled the whole time I read it. And I am honored to be the living book mark for my students. What a lovely metaphor. Thanks for your wonderful words.

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