In a land beyond the last ocean, where the gulls wheel landward only to return with table scraps, there are great libraries in every city and town.  The citizens of this land are fond of reading.  They learn foreign languages to extend their pleasure, delighting in determinatives and boustrophedon, participles and particles.

Peculiarly, however, they write no books of their own.  They have shopping lists and invoices and legal contracts, of course, but no books.  If they wish to preserve a story or treatise, they must memorize it.

Instead of books, they make bookmarks.  There are cunning steel bookmarks with a hook at the top, from which a charm dangles in the shape of falcon or fox or flower.  Such bookmarks often double as letter openers.  There are others carved from wood, with ghostly, half-formed faces peering out at the reader, or the painstakingly rendered bones of sparrows and cats.

Paper bookmarks abound as well.  From an early age, children are given blank bookmarks and encouraged to decorate them with scribbles, sketches of dragonflies, ink spatters–whatever they desire.  As they grow older, many of them become engrossed by this art, subscribing to one or another of the many schools: those who believe that a bookmark should be tailored to a favorite passage in a particular book, or that they should reflect the maker’s mood on a given feast-day, or should be calligraphed with a witty foreign quote.

Visitors sometimes ask why the people of this land are so fond of bookmarks when the books aren’t even their own.  In response, the bookmark-makers look surprised and answer that any book in the world becomes your own if you take the time to understand it.