A very good friend of mine, who reads this blog frequently, will be horrified, mortified and possibly petrified by the graphic pictures below. I need to apologize to him in advance for this assault on his sensibilities. I have observed the reverence with which he handles these precious possessions of his, how he tries his very best to maintain them in their pristine condition…something I just can’t do!

Here’s what I do instead:

I should be less shameless and apologize to all the book lovers who abhor this practice…but I can’t bring myself to do it, I can rationalize and justify it: this is the effect books have on me.

I can remember where I stop reading a book. For some odd reason, I remember the numbers of the pages where my reading was interrupted and it isn’t important for me to use dog-ears in lieu of bookmarks.

My dog-ears are used as notes on the margin.

Sometimes I don’t want to forget what I’ve read. Some of what I read sends me off on odd tangents and I feel as though I am leaping from one thought plane to the next. When this happens I want to mark that page, I want to be able to get back to the same place, to relive that experience.

I usually fold the page from the bottom corner. This is what you see in the first image. But then, chances are I’d find something equally memorable on the next page. When this happens you see something like the second image: the backwards dog-earing of a dog-ear.

As I am doing this I often wonder if I would remember the passage that made me stop and think but I’ve tested that and I find I can almost always get back to it.

In the introduction to his book – Cultural Amnesia – Clive James says:

“The book I wanted to write had its origins in the book I was reading. Several times, in my early days, I had to sell my best books to buy food, so I never underlined anything. When conditions improved I became less fastidious. Not long after I began marking passages for future consideration, I also began keeping notes in the margin beside the markings, and then longer notes on the endpapers. Those were the very means by which Montaigne invented the modern essay, and at first I must have had an essay of my own in mind: a long essay, but one with the usual shape, a single line of argument moving through selected perceptions to a neat conclusion.”

I haven’t had to sell books to buy food, not yet, but I’m often in a moving bus or car when I am reading and I find it quite difficult to write in the margins with a steady hand.

However, I do love buying second hand books where passages have been marked and lines underscored. I love establishing that mental communion with a reader who handled the book before me; I love sensing that connexion with a stranger I never knew.

Perhaps my curious multiple dog ears will make someone wonder about me, they may say (if they’re like my friend), “What a slob this person was!”

Or if they’re even a little bit like me they’ll pay closer attention to that page and find the sentence that had captivated me years ago, before my book ended up in their hands.

In the meantime, I keep my books close to me, on an overflowing nightstand, making mental notes to myself to open them up to disfigured pages, in an attempt to further explore the tangents on which I had been led…just as an aspiring aspiring essayist should.


  1. Book darts that is the solution.

  2. Though I don't do dog-ears or markings with pencil or pen, I love it when I lay my hands on a book that has the markings of being handled. Unless the person handling it has been very stupid or inane. Which I'm sure you aren't.

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