I love my bedroom. It is nothing special. The decor is plain and simple and the room holds far more book-space than clothes storage. I sleep, read and dress in there and, more importantly, the dog does nothing in there except for the occasional illicit pounce on the bed, so it stays permanently tidy. There are no to-do piles, no strewn dog-toys, no bills awaiting payment… just shelf upon shelf of books and, for good measure, the window faces the rising light of dawn. It is a temple of calm.
On my bedside table there is a lamp, an inlaid musical box that was a gift from my mother, the inevitable vicious alarm clock and a book. Nothing more. It reminds me of a magical altar where the implements each hold a ritual significance beyond their outward form. The lamp and the alarm clock symbolise the extremities of time and the boundaries of my conscious life… points of transition between dark and light, day and night. The musical box symbolises continuity, love and beauty… and by extension, eternity. The book changes its outer form regularly, each form representing a different experience and slice of reality. Yet it is always a portal to another world, whether one built in the imagination of its author or within the stranger realms of or own inner life. Within its pages lies a bookmark, keeping my place in the story… and that too has a deeper meaning. The nightly ritual of placing the bookmark long ago became my signal for sleep.
Each night, before sleep, I make the ritual gestures… switching on the lamp, setting the alarm, picking up the book. Then, the bookmark is slipped between the pages, the light extinguished and darkness wraps me up for the night, becoming a blank screen upon which dreams can play.
The ritual of the bookmark goes back a long way… all the way to childhood. I was taught early that between the covers of a book, all the wisdom of the ages can be found. Every human experience, every thought and emotion, every scrap of knowledge and worlds both real and fantastic reside within the inner space of a book. Even, said my mother, within the trashiest novel, there is something to be gleaned; if nothing else, the shadow of the writer’s thoughts litter the page, giving another perspective on the life we share.
My mother’s respect for books did not extend to their pages… or more specifically, to the corners of their pages. Many of the books in my little library still bear the traces of her enjoyment. Her place in the story was always marked by a turned-down corner and, after every few pages, a corner would simply be missing. She liked the taste of old paper. It was probably this latter habit… frustrating when she had eaten the ends of several critical lines…. that encouraged me to use a bookmark.
As with any ritual, there is a symbolism beyond the obvious… just as there is more within a book than words. The strip of green faux leather that is currently in use has been in and out of books for years. There are no special associations or memories; of itself, the bookmark has no value, nor is it particularly attractive, yet it marks more than the last page I read.
The bookmark is the outward and visible sign of respect; not for the books as objects in themselves, but for what they hold, invisibly, in the spaces between the words. The real worth of a book, just like a ritual, is seldom in the print and paper, but in the spaces between, where ideas and insight await the touch of mind and the understanding of the heart.