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How Bookmarks Spark Timeless Memories

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I’m not a collector. Of anything. Everything I have I use, including my books. The one possible exception are my bookmarks, though I guess I use those too. But it feels like a collection, albeit a small one.

I have been to all but a few of the bookstores most of my bookmarks came from. Each have meant, and continue to mean, something specific and special to me.

The bookstores I have not been to that are represented here are Thackeray’s Books of Toledo, Ohio (defunct I believe), which showed up in a book I bought, and Griffin Bay Book Store of Friday Harbor, Washington, which came with a gift. Of the three that do not come from a bookstore, one was made of three Soviet stamps and came via my Latvian father-in-law, who owned the pharmacy on the first floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel for 30 years; Imaginary Authors’ was a promotion from a perfume company; and British Walkers a shoe company promo.

All the rest are from bookstores where I bought books: Bloomsbury Books of Ashland, Oregon; Smith Family Bookstore of Eugene, Oregon; Horizon Books of Seattle, Washington (all, our former neighborhood bookstores); and Faulkner House of New Orleans, Louisiana.

From San Francisco come Green Apple Books on the Park (our current neighborhood bookstore); Green Apple Books, across the park from us; City Lights near my erstwhile office; Booksmith on the Haight; and the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Bookstore at Fort Mason (also now crushingly defunct).

Each bookmark carries a memory. Horizon is where I sat on a stool and read all of Philip Roth’s “The Ghost Writer.” Faulkner House is where I found a copy of Tennessee Williams’ “Memoirs,” and to my grief lost, leaving it on the plane home. Bloomsbury is where I found John Barton’s “Playing Shakespeare,” which felt like stumbling over a jug of ancient gold coins.

One of the great boons of bookstores is that moment when you realize you’ve found something that is about to change your life, something like “Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy” which I found at yet another now-defunct bookstore, this one a hole-in-the-wall in the Inner Sunset, or like the copy of “Martín & Meditations on the South Valley” by Jimmy Santiago Baca at Powell’s in Portland. You run your hand over it with an unwilling reverence, feel the spine, riffle the pages. You’re in no hurry to read it. It can’t go away nor can it be denied. You will read it. And it will change you. This is what bookmarks promise you when you slide them into the pages of your new book on the way out of the store and this is what they save for you, buttressing memories against the corrosion of time.

Curt Hopkins is a San Francisco-based writer and the author of THE DOG WATCHES AND OTHER POEMS.  Follow him on Twitter @curthopkins.

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