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Master of the Belarusian Short Story: to the 115th Anniversary of Jan Skrygan
Literary evening "The Circles of Life of Jan Skrygan" at the National Library of Belarus (+Video)

Bookmarks, Mary Shelley and Why You Shouldn't Put Cheese in a Book

Bookmarks, Mary Shelley and Why You Shouldn't Put Cheese in a Book
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Palina Dolia

Train tickets, love notes, mailing notes and... bacon? Sometimes bookmarks or what is used instead of what can be more than just a read mark 

Recently, for the first time in many years, I again opened my copy of Milorad Pavich's Khazar Dictionary and found that I had left in it a ticket for the train from Vitebsk to Polotsk as a bookmark. It completely faded, the date of the trip faded into time, but the destination remained, as did the memories: an overcrowded carriage, overnight stays at the station, tea begged from the ticket office employee... So I didn't sit down to reread the Khazar Dictionary. Here we go again. And plunged into memories.

A bookmark is an amazing little thing that matters much more to ourselves than meets the eye. The embodiment of our entire reading life and book habits. We all probably belong to one of three conventional camps:

  1. Those who buy good-quality bookmarks like magnetic, cardboard, with portraits of writers, cats or anything that pleases your eye.
  2. People like me, who just frantically rummage around for something thin enough to fit in a book.
  3. All who, with a sinister smile, lay the corners of their books and do not feel remorse.

There is nothing like a purchased bookmark to express your serious reading intent. Sometimes we meet our eyes with a set of magnetic bookmarks with reproductions of Van Gogh and immediately fall in love - and after a while, every time we open the book, we feel a little better.

Curled corners are a slightly more controversial way to mark a page, but they also have a right to life. Yes, all of us from childhood was taught to groom and cherish our books, not to spoil the roots, not to write in the margins... But there is an opinion that books were created for this love of ours. So that we read them all of a sudden in the way that suits us! And then a trace from a corner, a drop of coffee on a page number or a scratch on the spine will also return us to the past, to a glorious day when we spoiled our book a little but were generally happy.

And yet, for me, there is nothing better than random pieces of paper as bookmarks. Theatre tickets, business cards from hairdressing salons, a brochure of a restaurant that was never visited, a postcard with the sea, a receipt from an art school six years ago... Such trifles bring up long-forgotten memories as soon as you open the book. This is more than nostalgia, it is a chance to convey thoughts and experiences that resonate in our heart, to our future self.

Whatever category you categorize yourself into (or have you gone through all the stages?), We will not judge you as long as this reading habit of yours does not irrevocably spoil the books. After all, not all bookmarks can be called harmless! Just think it over: what was the greasiest book in your reading life? For Washington DC Public Library librarians, this question sounds much more literal, because the greasy was not so much the book as a real piece of bacon left in it.

However, bacon is not the most common type of perishable bookmark. Much more often, cheese is blasphemously hidden among the pages. And also other things of varying degrees of edibility starting from banana peels and four-leaf clover to circular saw blades and photographic film. Fortunately, most readers of the National Library have the tact not to leave anything suspicious in their books, because they already have convenient paper inserts. But in the library this year there was a thematic exhibition called "Secrets of Book Pages". During the existence of the library, a whole collection of finds from incoming books has accumulated - from old letters to unusual pens. And although the exhibition has already finished its work, you can still take a look at its exhibits on the page of the Book Museum.

Do you think strange objects are used as bookmarks only by modern readers, in whom the Internet has burned out all respect for the book? Not at all. Even famous writers have sinned like that. For example, Mary Shelley used as a bookmark an envelope containing the ashes of her late husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Thomas Hardy put scraps of paper with his notes into books. And one (somewhat dubious) legend says that Charles Dickens once acquired a bookmark from the skin of a hanged serial killer. By the way, returning to bacon: they say it was put between the pages by the literary critic Cyril Connolly.

All this thinking about weird bookmarks eventually led me to, where second-hand bookstore owner Michael Popeck posts everything he finds embedded in his books. Among the many greeting cards and black and white photographs, sometimes amazing bookmarks come across! For example, a marriage certificate dated October 18, 1899, embedded in an old Bible. Or the cheese soufflé recipe left behind in Darwin's Origin of Species. Or a little key among the pages of The History of Massachusetts... Who were these readers? What were they thinking when they put their notes into books? Most of the pieces in the Popeck collection are at least a hundred years old, and we will no longer be able to ask these questions to their original owners. But sometimes a message from a person who is no longer alive can change our lives.

Check your bookshelf. An old postcard, a booklet from an art gallery, a loyalty card from a store you won't return to, a grocery list... Who knows what you'll stumble upon as you dig into your past? And do not forget to look into the library - maybe you will come across a message from previous readers.

Internet Portal Maintenance Department


Magic for dummies: what fairy tales they adapt and what to read to tell them

22 Oct 2020

Since then, as a person learned to put sounds into words, and words into sentences, the world around him began to rapidly grow into fairy tales. Magic stories explained everything that frightened by its unknown, the change of seasons, birth, death, the color of the plumage of birds and the appearance of fire. What about them now? They suffered the fate of unbridled adaptation. Old fairy tales are rewritten over and over again in a new way, their motives are woven into other stories. How is this done, and most importantly, why? Let's take a look at the history of the adaptation of the fairytale classics.

Author's Point of View

Nothing is Sacred: Why Reading Over Your Shoulder Annoys You

20 Apr 2021

It happened to each of us. You cram into a crowded subway car, you can hardly find a free space to fit at least your head, a book is in your hands, you open it – after all, you stopped at the most interesting moment, how can you not read it? That is when it happens. Someone else's curious glance slides over the pages, the uninvited reader almost puffs in your – what an audacity! Although... What's the big deal? Why does a glance at someone else's book, thrown by a fellow passenger, awaken so much anger and irritation in us? Let's try to figure out.

Author's Point of View