5 Things You Maybe Shouldn’t Use as Bookmarks

Margaret Kingsbury

Contributing Editor

Margaret Kingsbury grew up in a house so crammed with books she couldn’t open a closet door without a book stack tumbling, and she’s brought that same decorative energy to her adult life. Margaret has an MA in English with a concentration in writing and has worked as a bookseller and adjunct English professor. She’s currently a freelance writer and editor, and in addition to Book Riot, her pieces have appeared in School Library Journal, BuzzFeed News, The Lily, Parents,, and more. She particularly loves children’s books, fantasy, science fiction, horror, graphic novels, and any books with disabled characters. You can read more about her bookish and parenting shenanigans in Book Riot’s twice-weekly The Kids Are All Right newsletter. You can also follow her kidlit bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians, or on Twitter @AReaderlyMom.

Over the 10 years I’ve worked as a book buyer at a used bookstore, I’ve seen some really weird (and often gross) things left in books. (Librarians find similar treasures.) Some of these oddities I imagine customers leave unintentionally, but then there are the things I see almost everyday and seem to be used in lieu of bookmarks. Okay, I’m guilty of using non-bookmarks as placeholders sometimes too. Stray receipts when my bookmark decides to abscond between couch cushions, or my Harry Potter trading cards (who doesn’t want to see Lupin or Hermione when they open up their current read?).

But…not everything should be used as a bookmark. Or, at the very least, the item should be removed from the books before you bring them in to sell.

Here are 5 of the most common examples.

Money used as a bookmark in a Dave Ramsey book

Money. Real money. Who are you, Daddy Warbucks? How does this scenario play out? You’re reading in your favorite chair, come to the end of the chapter and want to stop, only to realize you don’t have a bookmark. What to do? No worries, you’ve got that stack of bills right next to you on the end table; you’ll just use one of those. Um. Okaaay. We must live really different lives. And you’re really tempting the book buyer here. (Don’t worry, I always return the money. Books have taught me that bad things happen to thieves.) Related: Checks, credit cards, unused gift cards.

Rubber bands used as bookmarks in a stack of romance pocketbooks.

Rubber Bands. This one truly boggles my mind. I’ve seen them most often used as bookmarks in romance series. The rubber bands aren’t just placed inside the book, but wrapped around the book from a certain page. I haven’t decided if there’s just a single customer that comes in all the time that uses the rubber bands as placemarkers, or if it’s actually something multiple people do. Don’t these ever snap the person’s hand when they’re taking them off? And they often warp the book’s binding. Related: Paper clips.

Toilet paper used as a bookmark in a bathroom reader.

Toilet Paper. Okay, I understand. Everybody reads in the bathroom. I do too. And if you don’t have a bookmark, the most handy thing available is the toilet paper. But…can’t you take it out before you bring the book in to sell? I touch these books. With my bare hands. I don’t want to be reminded that the last place the book was read was in a stranger’s bathroom. Eww. Related: Q-Tips, band aids, nail files.

A personal letter used as a bookmark in the YA novel Torment.

Handwritten Letters. I actually enjoy finding these. Nine times out of ten they’re boring. Dear So and So, Thank you so much for this book you gave me. I’m visiting my grandmother this weekend and blah blah blah. But then there are those saucy gems. Maybe it describes how X discovered their spouse is cheating on them, or maybe it’s a love letter (and these can get REALLY detailed). I adore the awkward teenage love letters. So cute! Or the barely legible ones kids write with pictures. Awww.

What you should take away from this is, if you leave a letter in a book and sell that book in to a used bookstore, IT WILL BE READ. And if it’s a good one, it will be passed around and shared with the other book buyers. Sorry, we have to entertain ourselves somehow. And apparently you want us to read it. Related: Personal poetry, song lyrics, greeting cards, filled out postcards.

A photograph of a lady in front of a McRib is Back sign used as a bookmark.

Family Photographs. These can be fun to look at too. I’ve bought in orders where every book had a different picture of the same cute baby. Or those really awkward Olan Mills family photos. Or someone’s trip to Italy. I bought in a large order (gigantic book order) once and collected hundreds of photographs of the same family, taken over the years, all tucked inside books. I could paint a picture of the family’s entire life. My favorites are the random home photos. A child’s tenth birthday with a homemade SpongeBob birthday cake. Or someone posing ecstatically in front of a McRib is Back sign.

And then there are the nude photos. NO!!!!!

Other non-bookmark oddities seemingly used as bookmarks: pressed flowers, smaller books, pop cycle sticks, expired licences. 

Do you use any of these as bookmarks? (No shame! Okay, maybe a little.) Or do you use other non-bookmark items as bookmarks?