OP-ED: 'Forgotten Bookmarks': A Valentine to Used Books

By Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben

When I titled this column, I considered employing a more sophisticated word than “used” to describe the dear, dusty, musty and cherished volumes that, like treasure seekers with metal detectors, we sometimes happen upon.

Pre-owned? Antiquarian? First-edition? Gently perused?

Bottom line, the books are old and they have wandered far a field from their first homes. Often, they are battered and bruised. Always, they are…used.

The pleasure of possessing this darling little volume by Michael Popek is the insights it gives us into who once owned and read them, and what they were thinking or doing at the time.

In his introduction, Michael tells us that his most important task, after he became manager of his parents’ bookstore, was buying and sorting through his acquisitions. “I loved the fact that I could come across nearly anything: a moldy copy of Ulysses, a Victorian-era scrapbook filled with trade cards, a first-edition of Steinbeck. This treasure hunt led directly to my fascination with forgotten bookmarks.”
OP-ED: 'Forgotten Bookmarks':  A Valentine to Used Books

It also led to the next step in his literary adventure. That of collecting “treasures within treasures, little bits of random ephemera left inside books, often untouched for decades.”

In Forgotten Bookmarks, Michael Popek (  www.forgottenbookmarks.com) invites us to gently peruse his favorites. These includes photographs, postcards, recipes (I can’t wait to try the one for peanut butter cookies), and love letters. My god…what love letters!

Here is a quick look at what you will find:


A white casket draped with flowers and college banners on display in an old-fashioned parlor. Found inside The Fun of It, by Emilia Earhart. 1932.

A man in a saggy sweater with big ears, a big nose, demonic eyebrows, a sour mouth, and the face of an executioner. Found in Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. 1936.


A package of cap gun caps (Remember them? Cops and robbers. Bang bag, you’re dead!) Found inside a copy of Tom Swift and his Rocket Ship by Victor Appleton II. 1954.

A PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB sign from the Hotel Astor with the word “Silence” inscribed in ornate script on a red background. Found in a book with a sexy book jacket called Not Now But Now by M. E. K. Fisher. 1947.


A scheming, six-page epistle dated July 24, 1917 from “Sonny” (on his way to war), to his long-suffering mother. Found in a 1901 edition of The Standard American Speaker and Entertainer.

“Just at present, I am with but 30 cents in my pocket…You may ask why I do not live at the Armory…the food is not very good…I do not like to be different from all the rest so of course I have been out to a show once or twice…I am going to ask you to send me $50 dollars which will be the last money that I will ask you for. Remember, Mother you many never see me again…with lots of love and kisses, Sonny.”

And my favorite venomous letter of all time, used as a page marker in While Waiting…The Information You Need to Know About Pregnancy, published in 1993 by St. Martin’s Press.

“I cannot believe what a slime you are…how she managed to spend 2 years with a manipulative sadist like you is incredible…How could you be so CRUEL…My God, WHAT did I ever see in you…You’re downright ugly and you talk funny. You don’t know how to dress. You have all the morality & sentiment of a JUNGLE BEAST!!! And you’re a colossal snob; a boor and a boring old fart.”

You will have to get your own copy of Forgotten Bookmarks to find out what the writer intends to do with her fingernails to the boring old fart’s eyes. I ain’t telling.

I will, however, recommend a happy stroll through its pages. Start to finish are nostalgic and evocative glimpses into other lives. Other eras. When handwriting projected personality and it mattered if a note was written on a page torn from a three-ring binder, pretty floral stationery, or a sheet bordered in black and decorated with a skull and cross bone (tucked into The Aneid of Virgil. 1931).

This fun book is a Whitman’s Sampler of intimate and abandoned memories, assembled by a true aficionado of what were once other people’s books.

Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben. Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - evesun.com

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit  www.shellyreuben.com. Link to David M. Kinchen's reviews of her novels "The Skirt Man" and "Tabula Rasa": http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060605-kinchen-review.html

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