Bacon Bookmarks Rise Again
I’m chagrined to admit that a Denny’s ad for their “Baconalia” promotion got me to thinking about bacon bookmarks again. From bacon meatloaf to a maple bacon sundae, the company was capitalizing on America’s fondness for salty fat, assuming that if a little bacon is appealing, a lot (as in over the top) must be better so let’s add it to everything. Then I came across an article on a website called Food2 titled “Bacon, And Other Baffling Bites As Bookmarks” that began, “Nothing like checking out a library book, and finding some stranger’s crusty old piece of bacon stuck in between the pages. Find out which other foods folks are using to hold their literary place. . ..” I was intrigued that it would reveal new cases of bacon sightings, but it made only passing reference to odd things found in books including cheese and a Hostess Apple Pie (which won the Worst Bookmark of the Year Award), but it was really just an attention getter to talk about recipes for bookmark-shaped foods that “look as good on a plate as they do on a paragraph.” Recipes followed for Lemony Squash Ribbons, Crunchy Cinnamon Straws, Cranberry Shortbread, all sounding pretty tasty, and Cinnamon Bacon Skewers that beat “regular old raw bacon bookmarks any day.”
Next I found a query on the Straight Dope message board about whether you could laminate bacon. The question posed was whether it would “rot as normal or become immortal?” One respondent suggested that the answer was a bacon bookmark and that “Sadly, retailers have missed this important niche, so I shall steal the idea, patent it, and make dozens of dollars. ’Til then, may I suggest a better “bacon encasement plan?” Take a look—it really does seem like a novel and yummy idea.
All of these signs told me it was time to pursue the bacon bookmark again, and sure enough, I found new categories and a few new sightings. I looked for anything new since the last column on bacon bookmarks in May 2009. It seems that retailers or at least crafters have realized the appeal of bacon bookmarks. A blog called MissFidget.com cited the first column from August 2006 and the discussion that appeared in the New York Times Paper Cuts column in January 2009. It cites the “Bacon of Hate” bookmark from the AntiCraft site that has a dual purpose as a sort of voodoo object. Given the level of craftiness needed to create this object despite the web site title, I wanted to see what other crafters might have devised.
Sure enough, on Etsy, the site that claims to be the “world’s handmade market,” there are some clever specimens. A rather detailed, die cut example is embroidered with thousands of stitches and suggests that you “use your favorite food as a crunchy and delicious bookmark, prop, or decoration.” A more simple and stylized felt version is paired with a matching felt egg and enhanced with wire to make it look crispy. Another realistic looking felt bookmark was inspired by the maker’s son who claims everything is made better with bacon. The maker decided that even a good book would be improved with this so-called no-fat bacon. Another listing for a fat-free fuzzy-looking fabric bookmark in a very simple design touts it as the multi-purpose meat. It gets extra marks for entertaining advertising copy:
This is no ordinary bacon.
This is SUPER bacon.
How many times have you been caught short with nothing to hold your place in a book or magazine? Don't use that unattractive tissue from the box sitting beside you! Use BACON!
Our life sized bacon is 100% fat free which means there will be no greasy transparencies on those pages my friend, oh no.
When you're not using your bacon as a book companion it has many other uses that include:
- cat toy
In a site called “It’s All About the Bacon”, there is a post for a cross-stitched bookmark with realistic marbling but the design is diminished by the requirement to have straight edges. El’s Cards features a very ripply design on a bookmark with the reassuring message that “bacon makes everything better.” Maybe Denny’s should give these away in hopes of convincing its clientele.
Mollie of Wild Olive offers a printable bacon bookmark that was cited by many. She suggests that it be attached to flexible magnetic tape to fold over the page and also has designs for a pickle, bandage, ruler and pencil. While very cute, this one’s little facial expression makes it difficult to think about consuming it. Highsmith, the supplier of many bookmarks to libraries, offers a scratch and sniff bacon and egg bookmark, one of 25 in their line of scented bookmarks. You could pair this one with their pancake and maple syrup bookmark. I understand the appeal of those with popcorn, apple pie and chocolate chip scents, but I’m baffled by the ones that smell like dirt and burnt rubber.
Going to the other end of the creative spectrum, I found a few references to artists and bacon bookmarks, a theme from past columns. There was a tantalizing performance by T. J. (Tim) Hospodar at the Factory in Brooklyn in 2009 titled “Bacon Bookmarks” but I could find no information about it. In the artist’s statement about his work, he says that “meal-sharing and theatricality pervade my artwork”. In a blog entry for 16 Jan 2010 from Lola in Brooklyn, she observes that “Working with Tim over the last few months has made me more observant of the subtle oddities of life, and has convinced me that bacon is, in it self (sic), a food group.” Clearly he has an affinity for the flattened pork but how he related it to bookmarks remains a mystery.
Artist Stokley Towles spent a year at the Seattle Public Library interacting with patrons and staff, culminating in a performance and a “special collection” of 1,000 books that had not circulated in over ten years. On his website, he lists Unusual Bookmarks found in library system books including a “strip of raw bacon”. Under his biography statement, he says that “In Fall City I learned about the most unusual book mark a librarian had found in a book returned to the system: a strip of raw bacon.” Perhaps this was the same reported but not observed incident, and he makes no further comments about it.
While these two examples appear to be performance art that is not accessible, it is possible to see bacon bookmarks in action by two people who are not artists officially but who did use the strips to dramatic effect. The most cited case was Ann Barnhardt whose 4/2/11 YouTube video presents her reading passages from the Koran marked with uncooked bacon strips, then tearing out the pages and burning them. I won’t go into the range of commentary that appeared following this exhibition, although several observed that this was truly performance art.
The other case was done for comedic effect but given the “performer”, it can be interpreted as a social and political statement as well. On February 9, 2010, Stephen Colbert used a piece of crisp bacon as a bookmark in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals toward the end of the interview with Foer. Colbert has some choice word about Denny’s Baconalia on April 11, 2011 along with a bit on bacon scented cologne.
The other major category of bacon bookmarks is of course, libraries. I found very few new examples and one case that happened in 1961, reported in the Fort Scott Tribune in Kansas on March 16, 2011 about a high school senior who won the National Quill and Scroll feature story contest. Her story titled "Still Another Use for Fry Bacon" was reprinted:
Everyone realizes that students need bookmarks to keep their place in books. The most popular are passcards, history tests, grocery lists and sociology reports. Some prefer snapshots, scraps of material, pencils or shoe strings. However, Mrs. Lucile Rogers, librarian, stated that the most unusual bookmark ever to be found in a book was a nice, crispy fried, slice of bacon.
It’s a little too late to try to interview Mrs. Rogers to find out if this was fact or fiction. Another report got a fair amount of attention in the UK after an article appeared in The Argus on September 22, 2009 titled “Rasher of bacon found in Worthing Library book.” The real purpose of the article was to promote an exhibit at Worthing’s main library by artist Dan Thompson of his collection of quirky items found in second-hand and library books. He made a DIY printable bacon bookmark as a promotional piece, clever and nicely done. Columnist Tim Hayward in the Guardian on September 23 lamented that “Unfortunately, the Argus report goes on to list other things found in library books rather than pursuing the obvious and far more exciting culinary angle. Was it smoked? Was it streaky or back? Did the reader place it raw into a heavy hardback, perhaps flattening it to wrap a tiny terrine; or was it cooked and sandwiched between the absorbent pages of a pulp work on bodily self-improvement in an attempt to soak up unhealthy fats? We need to know.”
He then invited readers to comment on the weirdest and most inappropriate use of a food. Two commenters claimed other bacon bookmark sightings in libraries, one found by an aunt who worked in a Cheshire library (and who also found a mouse in a book), and another by someone who said, “I recall a rasher of raw bacon being found inside a returned book at Blackburn Library. It must have been around 1976.” The Guardian was on the trail, publishing another article the following day with the title “Meaty volume: the library book that came back with a bacon bookmark.” They commissioned a photograph of a piece of raw bacon in a hardback and interviewed former Worthing librarian Jan Bild who provided a list of unusual items from her thirty-year career, but no bacon.
Once again, all occurrences of bacon were either long ago or by a third party. In searching for a first-hand account, I did find a recent mention by a poster to the “Book Buying Addicts Anonymous” discussion forum on GoodReads.com. The topic was “Best Places/Ideas for FREE Books?” and of course, someone suggested the library. One respondent said on March 16, 2011 “I worked at a library for 4 years and it completely traumatized me. I can never check out a library book again knowing what I know. The conditions that some books come back in are absolutely apalling...For example, we found a piece of bacon that was being used as a book mark. Cooked bacon. Needless to say we charged them the full price of the book and had to throw it out.” Aha! First person account, relatively recent, details, credible reaction. When I contacted her, she graciously responded to my odd inquiry, confessing that it had been found by a co-worker on a day when she wasn’t there so, no, she had not seen it first hand. Foiled again!
Still determined, I searched for more accounts and found quite an amusing thread on LibraryThing under “Librarians who LibraryThing” and the topic “Strange Bookmarks.” It began with someone citing another discussion forum about odd things left in books where un-fried bacon was the strangest. An early comment cited a “lock of hair in a tiny envelope” and another claimed to find hair extensions (these are in honor of Lauren who began her collection by finding a lock of hair). Then someone proclaimed, “OMG—I've had TWO instances in TWO different cities with pieces of bacon on books. One was cooked, one was raw.” Promising but a little too vague to be entirely credible. Another person said she seemed to remember that her father had found bacon and banana skins in books. “A moldy, flattened pancake, wedged between the pages of a children’s book” was offered, to which another person commented on the makings of a breakfast theme. Sure enough, someone else reported finding a muffin wrapper in a children’s picture book, probably blueberry. I decided to focus on the food-related findings although there were plenty of other oddities in the list. The food comments really took off with the following: “I once found a slice of Pasteurized American cheese food with one bite taken out of the corner”; “once I found lettuce. Another time I found a tomato slice. The piece of lettuce I can kind of understand, but the tomato made no sense at all.”; and the pièce de résistance: “One of my coworkers found the makings of a sandwich spread out through the book. There were two pieces of bread and some kind of meat (ham or turkey) and a piece of cheese. And yes, the inevitable comment: “If you put that together with some of those bacon bookmarks, you'll have a BLT.” I see the makings of more bookmark designs.
Laine Farley is a digital librarian who misses being around the look, feel and smell of real books. Her collection of over 3,000 bookmarks began with a serendipitous find while reviewing books donated to the library. Fortunately, her complementary collection of articles and books about bookmarks provides an excuse for her to get back to libraries and try her hand at writing about bookmarks. Contact Laine.