Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Bookmark Slog

This story from The Onion hits a little too close to home. As I look up at the closest bookcase I realize that there are far too many books there which contain bookmarks that have not advanced in years. I think I finish maybe 70% of the books I start.

The playing card (a six of hearts) marking my place in David Copperfield has been stalled at page 428 since about November of 2002, and the free bookmark from A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books has been stuck on page 382 of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay for even longer.

I abandon my books for a number of reasons. Sometimes I get sick of a writer (I started Kavalier immediately after reading Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys and A Model World). Other times a book just sucks (the insert card from an issue of National Review will probably remain on page 321 of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy until the last trumpet sounds the call for the apocalypse).

I notice, as I look at my books, that some writers have proven unputdownable. There’s not a bookmark to be seen in any of my seven volumes by Patrick O’Brian; nor are there bookmarks in anything by Roddy Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, Joseph Epstein, Isaac Bashevis Singer or Richard Russo. There is a scrap of paper marking page 215 of The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh, but this does not mean that I got bored or distracted. It simply means that when I got to that page I realized that I had zipped through almost all of Waugh’s fiction, and I couldn’t bear the thought of having nothing new by him to read. There are no bookmarks in any of his novels.

For some of these bookmarks there is still hope. I may very well finish David Copperfield one day. For others, the future looks grim. I have grave doubts, for example, as to whether the movie ticket (Bulletproof Monk) holding tenuously to page 590 of Bertrand Russell’s, The History of Western Philosophy will ever make it to the finish line at page 836. Although, you gotta hand it to the little bugger, I’m surprised it got as far as it did.

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