Sunday, August 29, 2010

Homo Sapiens Scriberens -- What do Your Bookmarks Say About You?

Homo sapiens sapiens (modern men and women) and their close but improved relatives homo sapiens scriberens (modern writers) use tools.  The use of tools was, until recently, one of the things that marked us as human.  Now we know that chimps do it.  Octopi do it.  Even crows do it.

Nothing against chimps or octopi, of course.

And especially nothing against crows.

As a result of the crows, the bulk of humanity is questioning why they're not as good as crows, but we writers are too busy for that:  we've got tools that need using.  From quill (not from a crow, though) to pencil to pen to typewriter to computer to voice recognition and so on, we use tools to help us write.  The tools we use say something about us, whether we like it or not.

Often, the simplest tools are the best.  I had to cringe while I wrote that sentence;  I rely on my computer a great deal, and I have to admit it's not a simple tool.  But within the crowputer I use tools that are simple and effective for me, tools that simplify the tasks I want to accomplish.  I cannot imagine writing and revising without the ability to search for text, for instance.

For reading, a bookmark is a simple tool.  It can be made from almost anything, especially flat things.  A scrap of paper makes fine bookmark, and you can almost always find a scrap to serve the purpose.  What does a scrap say about you though?

You can buy decorative bookmarks or you can make your own.  Years ago I made a number of them by cutting rectangles of suitable size from old birthday and Christmas cards.  I find these bookmarks deficient in one important respect -- they don't tell me where on the page I stopped reading.  I should explain.

I often read several books at once, and some of them (usually non-fiction) might get put aside for a couple of months.  I have a strong dislike for reading a passage twice by mistake.  My rectangular bookmarks tell me which page, and which half of that page I stopped on:  the bookmarks are one-sided, and the illustrated side points to the page of interest; the bookmarks have a top and a bottom (even if it's subtle), so a right-side-up bookmark signals the top half of the page, an inverted one signals the bottom.

In order to increase my precision in marking the spot to restart reading, I developed this bookmark:  I rotate it to show an upright 1 for the top quarter, an upright 2 for the 2nd quarter down the page, etc.  It's alright, but I'm not really happy with it.

My best bookmark is a well-worn two-piece.  I've read a lot of books published with extensive notes, and all too often those notes are buried at the back of the book.  I prefer them to be in with the text on the same page, but that's relatively rare.  At first I used two bookmarks -- one for the text and another for the notes, but all too often one (usually the one for the notes) fell out while I was reading at the other bookmark.  I solved that by linking two bookmarks with a string.  The larger piece with the arrow marks my place in the text, and the best part is that it is accurate to the line!  I position that part so the arrow is pointing to right where I'm leaving off.  Crows like this bookmark the best.

The string sticks out of the top of the book so I can always find what page my bookmark is hiding on.  Here are some action photos!

What does this bookmark say about me?  That I'm serious about reading?  That I value function over form?  That I have too much time on my hands?  That I have a knack for making anything complicated?

I don't care what it says about me.  I care that it works.  Just as I think a car is for getting me and my crow from place to place rather than for impressing my oh-so-human neighbors,  I believe a writer's choice of tools is a personal decision best made with the goal of improving the writing.


  1. You're an engineer, my dear, always trying to improve upon the ordinary "human" ways of life.

  2. Sounds like something to crow about.