I don't read for pleasure.
Well, I do, in the sense that I enjoy reading immensely, and always have, back to when I first learned how to read, and would devour ... what were they? "Dan Frontier" books. I loved those.
What I mean is I don't read solely for pleasure. There is always the next column, or blog post, or book over the horizon, if not due in a few hours, lurking in the back of my mind. You never know when a passage will come in handy, and need to be found again. Bookmarks make that possible. Otherwise, you forget.
Which is why wherever I regularly read, there are pads of small Post-It notes scattered nearby. On the night table. In a drawer in my desk. In a drawer in the coffee table. In my briefcase. Dozens of them. I never want to look for a Post-It note, I want to glance down, grab one, stick in the margins, and continue reading. (I could no more dog-ear a book or underline it than I could toss a book into the fire. If you want to discuss this, you may. Text books, yes, or galleys being reviewed. Those are disposable. But nothing else).
There are times, however, when a Post-It is not nearby. Then I grab whatever is handy—a scrap of paper, an envelope, a check, anything. I'll open my wallet and grab a business card. (Not that you give people business cards anymore. They're fomites, aka, objects that transmit disease).
But people used to carry them, and I wasn't alone in the habit of using business cards as bookmarks.
Tuesday I pulled a book off the shelf, to do some research for my next book. "Truman," by David McCullough. It opened to a business card, but it wasn't mine. It was Steve Neal's, my former Sun-Times colleague, our political columnist, who died, by his own hand, in February, 2004.
I almost gasped, to see it there. And then I remembered. His office at the Sun-Times was jammed, floor-to-ceiling, with books. I had permission, when working on something, to just go in and take one. I didn't have to ask; he didn't have to be there. A very generous man, in that and other regards. I remember standing on his desk, balancing precariously, reaching over to grab some volume shelved up high, near the ceiling.
After he died, his family took some books, and the rest were just piled nearby, an enormous mound, a yard high. I took armloads of books back to my office—the McCullough was a no-brainer. They retain the calm, scholarly air of their previous owner: Steve's books. I'm not alone in that attitude either: if you go down to the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield, there is a corner with Neal's portrait, and a couple shelves of his books, as in books written by him. It seems an apt tribute.
Yes, it's easier to search books online. But not every book is online, and those that are can be severely limited. "Snippet view." How I hate that term. Besides, nothing beats having books around, at hand, accessible. It leads to all sorts of serendipitous encounters and random discoveries, such as picking up an old book and being reminded of a passage that was worth highlighting. Or of a colleague, gone now more than 16 years, who was a splendid man, and worth remembering.