A Bookmark Story

Sophomore year of high school (1999!), a friend loaned me a copy of The Eye of the World. I started reading it during lunch, was confused as hell by its prologue (standard procedure), and needed a bookmark to keep my place because I wasn’t a savage who dog-ears borrowed books. So I took out a sheet of loose-leaf notebook paper, folded it three times to one-eighth the size, and jammed it in there.

This bookmark rode through the entirety of the then-current Wheel of Time series, eight books. By the end it was already slightly stained from rubbing against the ink of 6,000+ paperback pages, a weird, faint gray texture. At some point in those six months or so it picked up a couple scratched up notes relating to easter-eggs in Asheron’s Call and Baldur’s Gate, marking a trifecta of life-long fan associations I’ll stump for to this day.

I still have that improvised bookmark. It’s not in great shape, but it’s a 17-year-old sheet of folded notebook paper, disposable by design, meant for pre-calculus homework. One of the quadrants isn’t even attached to the whole, a loose piece that needs to be carefully folded into the middle so it doesn’t fall out. Honestly, I’m surprised the whole thing hasn’t disintegrated into dust and memories.

I still use that bookmark under certain conditions that evolved over time. I used it for the latter half of the Wheel of Time book as they came out. It took a brief dive into the Sword of Truth series before fleeing halfway through book three. I’m sure it put in appearances elsewhere in the initial years, but it definitely put in work for Otherland, a series that bridged the end of high school and the beginning of college. It might have been the only bookmark I took with me that fall.

Time passed and the bookmark saw more action. It got refolded multiple times to open up fresh sides to be stained by more ink. At some point it became a ‘Thing’. It was now the Epic Fantasy Bookmark. Let other bookmarks put in work for literature classes and sci-fi novels. It started living in The Shadow Rising when not in use, and waits there now. Eventually books had to be worthy of the Bookmark. They must be epic fantasy, Otherland grandfathered in. They must be at least a trilogy (don’t waste my time with stand-alones). They must be good enough in the first 200 pages or so, potential winners, before the Bookmark would deign to descend from its cozy WoT#4 home and grace the challenger with its presence. And it would depart if the book was anything less than great, demoting the novel to one of the other pile of bookmarks I use, improvised or otherwise.

The most recent Bookmark-qualified series is the Magister’s Trilogy by C.S. Friedman. I finished Feast of Souls recently and snap-ordered book two. We’ll see if books two and three can maintain the Bookmark’s increasingly miserly blessing.

A Series of Number Ones

A fair percentage of my reading over the last 9 months or so has been nothing but 1st books in fantasy series and often a debut novel as well. I did this for two reasons. First was simply a matter of catching up with more current fantasy authors. Somewhere in in the last decade I’d fallen behind on anything that wasn’t the Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire, despite doing a respectable amount of reading throughout that time period. The second reason was for the sake of study. I was writing my own debut novel, the first in a series, and wanted a broader base of comparison.

The list (in chronological order) is as follows: The Way of Kings, The Name of the Wind, Prince of Thorns, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Warded Man, Retribution Falls, and most recently The Red Knight. That’s something of a murderer’s row of recent hot fantasy, to say nothing of the additional sampling of other series. I’d like to add Blood Song and The Black Prism to the end of that list before the end of the year, at least.

The main takeaway has been that a certain amount of jank is tolerable in #1s. This may seem obvious, but during the long grinding finish of Valkwitch, it was a constant reassurance against the sense that every single imperfection would sink the entire ship. None of the above mentioned books were by any means perfect, though Locke Lamora was damn close in a way that is utterly impossible to replicate. It’s not an excuse for sloppy writing or slash-dash structure, but it allows you a bit of wiggle room mentally. Otherwise the constant drive towards impossible perfection will have you locked in an endless cycle of revision and self-hate.

Instead of the normal finite cycle of revision and self-hate, that is.

I’ve been writing up short reviews for most of the #1s I’ve read this year, and such Internet wisdom can be found via my Goodreads Profile for the time being. I’ll get around to a Review section of this website…eventually.