Shawn Alff: You started posting pictures of forgotten bookmarks on a blog in 2007 after finding a large marijuana leaf pressed in the pages of a microwave cookbook. In a world where the written word is increasingly appearing online exclusively, will there be such a thing as a digital bookmark that a bibliophile fifty years from now will compile to provide some insight into digital readers?
Michael Popek: I'm not sure if there will be a proper digital equivalent. If you think about it, you can buy an old computer off Craigslist today - who knows what kind of files you'll find on there. Perhaps in 50 years, the highlighting and note-taking capabilites of e-readers will have advanced so that you can find a marked-up digitial Ulysses. * * *
: What is the most common type of odd bookmark: a photo, grocery list, a concert ticket?
MP: Dried and pressed flowers and leaves, by far. After that, I find a lot of photos.* * *
: Have you noticed a trend in the type of bookmarks used over the decades?
MP: Older books seem to have a lot more newspaper clippings inside. I will occasionally find a volume with text replaced by pasted-in clippings. I'm not sure if that should be some sort of sign of the state of journalism, or just that people don't clip articles out of the newspaper any more.* * *
: What are the best books for interesting bookmarks: religious books, textbooks, cookbooks
MP: Big leather Bibles from the turn of the last century will almost always have something inside. I think families used these as portable filing cabinet. Anything big and beefy - dictionaries, encyclopedias, art books - are good bets, but the best bookmarks are in well-worn novels.* * *
: Have you ever tracked down anyone whose bookmark you found, or has anyone recognized their bookmark from your blog?
MP: It doesn't happen as often as I'd like. I would really enjoy returning some of this stuff to its proper owners. The first time it happened, it was a handmade cloth bookmark. The person who had made the bookmark more than 30 years ago had found the post. (You can read the comments on this found bookmark here).* * *
: What would you like to find one day in a used copy of Forgotten Bookmarks
MP: Hopefully a little note with a gift inscription, something along the lines of "To Mary on her 25th birthday, I loved this book, thought of you as I read it." * * *
: Have you ever thought about starting a blog on the odd things you find written or drawn in used books, or would these doodles be more difficult to discover?
MP: I have thought about it, but between Forgotten Bookmarks, Handwritten Recipes (like F.B., but just found recipes) and Book Per Diem (I sell one book a day), I have my internet hands full, not to mention the day-to-day bookshop stuff. I have a bunch of book-related blog ideas I'd like to get off the ground.* * *
: Reconstructing the lives of readers through the bookmarks they leave behind seems like the premise of a Jorge Luis Borges short story. What lessons or impressions do you think an alien race would learn about humanity based solely on the bookmarks we leave behind?
MP: I find a lot of these bookmarks in the middle of the text, so they might think we never finish reading a book.
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