Our Reading Lives

Things I Found in My Books

Jennifer Paull

Staff Writer

Jennifer Paull walks quickly.

During a recent book-packing spree, I naturally couldn’t resist flipping through a novel or twenty. With nearly every paperback sprung or hardcover opened, I found a little memento sandwiched into the pages. I don’t scrapbook, I just bookmark.

I wasn’t particularly aware of the habit until the evidence started to mount. Unlike Edd here, I don’t have a faithful, dedicated bookmark, traveling with me from short stories to pulpers to Victorian doorstops. Instead, there’s a bookmark in every port.

The more I discovered, the longer I paused over each one. They were usually chosen as something ephemeral I wanted to keep—just for the length of the read, or the ride, or the trip, or the semester. And then they stayed.

Bus passes reminded me of late-night highways to New York, or the hiccupping path of San Francisco’s MUNI. A crisp-pressed crimson leaf signaled a rare and happy afternoon of reading in a park. A coaster scribbled with a wine’s name—oh, I’d forgotten how delicious that was. Film Forum stubs conjured up creaky seats, the dry rustle of their butter-less popcorn, and the swoon into French noir on a rainy day. A romantic note from the days before smartphones, when I was lugging around Vanity Fair.

A few were actual bookmarks, given by a bookstore after a special purchase or an hour spent lost among the stacks. A jotted receipt commemorates the wondrous D.G. Wills Books in California, where the owner tossed in a Bemelmans book for free “because you get it” (and they don’t go in for fancy cardstock bookmarks). Some markers I clutch because the bookstores are regrettably gone, such as the late, great Books and Company. Their logo peeks out on a narrow strip of cream paper and I can visualize that dim room all over again, and remember skipping lunches to save up for an Arthur Miller novella.

Sometimes, one little memento would conjure up an entire reading sense-memory, like the exact smell of my college library, the color of the sky through its high windows, my ribbed sweater sleeve when I succumbed to a nap.

In almost every case, I put these gleanings right back where they were. When my books are eventually given away, I will have to shake them out first.

How about you—do you tuck mementoes away in books? Any fun discoveries?