Looking for Dog-eared Pages

dog-ear page
Dog-ear (and marginalia) in my copy of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – The Dry Salvages that I must have folded back in college.

The turned-down corner of a page is known as a dog-ear. The term comes from the idea that the ears of many breeds of dogs flap over and that you can often sense a dog’s mood based on whether or not its ears are forward, upright, or back.

The practice of dog-earing a book page is generally frowned upon by people who want to preserve books and by librarians when you’re doing it to their collections. Reference books often have dog-ears.

I first discovered dogears on library books and I wondered what was on that page that someone wanted to mark. This was especially interesting to me when I was reading fiction. Was it simply a bookmaker of where they left off reading? Probably not, since there were multiple dog-ears and you could undo a fold as you read further to be less damaging. So, what was on that page? Was it a great passage? Maybe it was a sexy part of the novel.

One dog-earring reader has written that:

“Dog-eared pages are a sign of love, the physical manifestation of the connection between the reader and his book. Leaving a dog-ear on a book you’re reading is like kissing your partner goodbye. It’s a promise to return and continue the romance. And that’s not a shameful thing.”

Dog-earing other people’s books is not right but I do it to my own books. I don’t usually do it as a bookmark. It’s easy enough to grab a scrap of paper nearby for that. For me, it is to mark a page I might want to return to later. I see them in poetry books marking my favorite poems. I used to put pencil marks on the table of contents but that seems even more of mistreatment.

When I find them made by previous readers, I don’t think vandalism. I think of it as a less-damaging marginalia note to future readers, a sign of a deep reader paying attention to the text.

I’m not a big fan of reading on screens but I do have a tablet and I know that Kindles and such allow for highlighting and marking and in some cases, you can see those left by other readers. These do no damage. But in the same way that I still like to hold a book in my hands, I like to see the folded page corner.

Dog-ears can range in size just as real dog’s ears vary in size. The tip of the page is standardized, but I have seen a quarter or half a page folder over. That seems extreme, though someone showed me once how they fold so that the point directs attention to a particular line. I only half fold magazine pages as a progress marker knowing the magazine will end up recycled anyway.

Multiple dog-eared pages (especially on successive pages) can make a whole section of the book bulge even when viewed from the side. This leads me to a tributary of the dog-ear – the broken spine.


A broken spine, caused by folding back the entire open book, is real damage. A librarian friend told me that it often happens in books that patrons flatten in order to make a photocopy. This is not a good practice but I know that in my youth I would sometimes hold open in my palm a copy of something like Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence and that spy in the house of love, Anais Nin, in the library to see where the pages had been (if not dog-eared) opened intensely. It wasn’t always the “dirty parts.”

In Nin’s writing, I find: “When he first stepped out of the car and walked towards the door where I stood waiting, I saw a man I liked. In his writing, he is flamboyant, virile, animal, magnificent. He’s a man whom life makes drunk, I thought. He is like me.”

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, it might open up to: “Then as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her new strange trills rippling inside her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite, exquisite and melting her all molten inside. It was like bells rippling up and up to culmination. She lay unconscious of the wild little cries she uttered at the last. But it was over too soon, too soon, and she could no longer force her own conclusion with her own activity. This was different, different. She could do nothing.”

When I borrowed a copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’s not particularly erotic novel, Middlesex, it opened to: “So that was our love affair. Wordless, blinkered, a nighttime thing, a dream thing. There were reasons on my side for this as well. Whatever it was that I was best revealed slowly, in flattering light. Which meant not much light at all. Besides, that’s the way it goes in adolescence. You try things out in the dark. You get drunk or stoned and extemporize. Think back to your backseats, your pup tents, your beach bonfire parties. Did you ever find yourself, without admitting it, tangled up with your best friend? Or in a dorm room bed with two people instead of one, while Bach played on the chintzy stereo, orchestrating the fugue? It’s a kind of fugue state, anyway, early sex. Before the routine sets in, or the love. Back when the groping is largely anonymous. Sandbox sex. It starts in the teens and lasts until twenty or twenty-one. It’s all about learning to share. It’s about sharing your toys.”

please commentDo you dog-ear books. If so, why?
Do you look for dog-ears in borrowed books?
Have you discovered a passage, book, or author from a dog-eared page?

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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