Bathroom Reading

Last week I was coming to the end of Travels with a Tangerine by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (a travelog in the footsteps of a famous Middle-Eastern traveler, Ibn Battutah) and I came across a passage that made me laugh out loud.  The author has found a battered copy of a reference book that had been in his home when he was a child:

“I checked.  It was the same edition as my father’s – Nelson’s Encyclopedia of 1913 – and had the same slightly animal odor that clings to reference books long thumbed.  People had often hinted to my father that it was out of date…but he remained loyal to those tatty maroon volumes, his contemporary.  I ran my hand along the spines.  I too was fond of Nelson’s, companion of many happy hours on the loo. (How deprived are the squatting nations!  Defecation and ingestion of knowledge are such complementary activities.)”

I laughed because, as an adult, I am also a bathroom reader.  My most ambitious bathroom choice was back when I was still at the bookstore.  In those days, when we did returns to publishers, we stripped the front cover off the mass market paperbacks and sent just the covers back; it was cheaper to publish a new paperback if needed than to pay return postage on a whole book.  One of the perks of working at the bookstore was that we could help ourselves to the coverless books (called “strips”) on the understanding that it was for our own reading pleasure and not for profit.  So it was that War and Peace ended up at my house without a cover.  I figured that if the book were in the bathroom I would actually read it, since I wasn’t sure I would pick it up off the nightstand!   Every couple of weeks, I would rip off the pages that I had already read and toss them.  It wasn’t like I was going to keep a strip on any of my bookshelves (with my real books).  Over the course of the next year, War and Peace got skinnier and skinnier until I was down to about 25 pages and I took it to the bedroom to finish off.

For several years it has just been National Geographic, Smithsonian and Scientific American in the bathroom, but now that I’m furloughed, I’m caught up with my magazines, so have a book in the basket as well — Lost in the Arctic by Lawrence Millman.  I think I may have gotten this book from Clyde or Bill or maybe Steve; I rarely buy books so it had to come from somewhere!

Are you a bathroom reader?  Willing to share your current bathroom tome?  Or your most ambitious read (bathroom or no)?

43 thoughts on “Bathroom Reading”

  1. Going to the bathroom without a book in hand feels sort of naked; usually I take whatever I happen to be reading at the time. Right now that’s Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s a somewhat depressing read in that it chronicles and catalogs injustices I have little ability to correct, but it’s certainly worthwhile.
    Previously I had a book I was only reading in the bathroom. That was The Sazerac Lying Club by Fred H. Hart. Published in 1873, it’s a collection of tall tales as told among the members of a club in a small town in frontier Nevada. My copy was deaccessioned from the library of Occidental College. As bathroom reading, it has the advantage of being broken up in very short chapters.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. news papers and emails and the last 6 months farmville 2. it has me hooked
    i am reading anti racist and new jim crow these days sharing the blm moment of the moment and realize white privileged assumptions are nothing new for people of color but appalled at how it plays out. i’d not put 2and 2 together.

    i’ve heard of people tearing off pages of books s they read. i can’t do it. it feels sac religious. lots of books on tape these days. an hour a day to the warehouse and back. i’m looking forward to seeing how life changes when the warehouse disappears, david sadaris is a favorite type of bathroom read. if i need to set it down i can come back
    i had a clyde bathroom book out at the warehouse on the shackleton expedition that took forever to make progress on, they were stuck there forever…. poor guys . it killed them

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As a teen and a young adult, my life-long interest in explorers of all kinds began. Arctic explorers hold a special fascination for me. There were some truly remarkable expeditions, full of drama, triumphs and tragedy. The Shackleton’s expedition on the Endurance stands out because despite failing to accomplish what they set out do, traverse Antartica on foot, the entire crew of twenty-seven men all survived the ordeal. Those had to be some very hardy and resourceful men.

      Some years ago the Science Museum in St. Paul showed “Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure” at the Omnitheater, it was amazing.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. OMG in the coincidence world. I’m actually at the gym right now, biking and reading and just came across a passage talking about “the seasoned British explorer, Dr. John Franklin, vanished.” Wowser.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Shakleton expedition is how totally the crew trusted their leader. Shakleton had to make several critical decisions, each of which could have been fatal to himself and the crew, and yet the group maintained perfect solidarity. I’ve heard that this story is taught in business management classes designed to improve leadership skills.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I still don’t understand why they didn’t all die. The ones in camp and then Shackleton’ trio, of course, who headed out into the unknown. Unbelievable.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Good for you, tim, for immersing yourself in anti-racist reading. There’s a lot learn, that’s for sure. I, too, have embarked on that journey, and am appalled at what I’m learning.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tha New Yorker is always a good bathroom read. Husband is reading,, for the second time,, John Prebble “Lion in the North”, a history of Scotland. He is currently on the Reformation. John Knox was not a very nice person.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. THat’s the one about Robert the Bruce, isn’t it? I’ve read it and a couple of other Prebble books about Scottish history. He’s a good writer.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I was confusing it in my mind with Robert the Bruce, King of Scots by Ronald McNair Scott. Both of them are next to each other in my library and both have red covers (the Prebble book is missing its dustjacket).
          I also have Prebble’s Culloden and The Highland Clearances.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. When I’m taking a bath, I usually have a book of short stories I can dip into. A whole novel doesn’t seem like a good choice, because I don’t have a relaxing soak in the tub that often – I usually shower – so it would take a long time to finish a novel that way. Alice Munro stories are great bathtub reading.

    If I’m not taking a bath I’m usually not in the bathroom for more than a couple of minutes. If I’ve just come home and have the contents of the mailbox in my hand, I might read a selection from that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have dunked a couple of books by accident. But mostly I can keep them dry – I have one of those bathtub caddies that sits across the tub
      in front of you, and I keep a small hand towel on it. Along with a glass of wine.


  5. Older folks often cling to grab bars in the shower. The whole process is not suitable for reading. My bathroom reading used to be the Consumer Report book rating cars. I have that pretty well memorized now, so I mostly read Time magazine.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I went to Ireland in Sept, 2017, we stayed at a Catholic retreat center run by brothers. One of my friends who went had the handicapped room because she needed the accommodations to the shower—the bars that you describe, Steve, as well as a seat in the shower. At the time she was 77 yo, and she was mostly mobile, but she had some limitations.

      One morning she disappeared for a long time. Later she told us that in the shower she fell off the seat and could not get up because there was nothing low enough and dry enough to allow her to pull herself up. So she let the shower run, rolled, wet and naked across the floor, until she could get to a chair that allowed her to pull herself up in front of the open window where she found one of the Catholic brothers weeding outside her window. She had to shower all over again. When she told us about it she was laughing so hard we thought she would choke.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I keep a book in the bathroom for the rare occasion that I have extra time there – current one is from my mom’s collection, O Ye Jigs & Juleps by, essays written circa 1900 by 10-year-old Virginia Cary Hudson, about life in the South . Totally charming and short chapters.

    I like the idea of leaving reading material in the loo that I truly want to read but can’t seem to get there – something about a captive audience…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I never, ever got into the habit of reading in the Loo. Bathroom time in a one bathroom home was in short supply and no one lingered, ever. Someone else might need to use it. I still don’t linger, despite having a home with two bathrooms now. You go in, do your business, and you get out.

    My parents were raised with outhouses–their parents’ farms had no indoor plumbing in the 40s, 50s, or 60s. In the winter no one lingered in the outhouse because it was cold. In the summer the flies were obnoxious and unpleasant out there. I did hear a story that Aunt Ruth would hide in the outhouse to avoid having to do dishes, but no one else stayed there unless they had to be there. Aunt Ruth must have been desperate to avoid that chore.

    Then there were the chamber pots indoors, which required balance and sensitivity to how full they were. You never wanted to tip one of those over. Nor did anyone linger there either–pretty stinky.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. We had an outhouse at our cabin, as some Baboons might remember. It was a two-holer, although I can’t remember it ever entertaining a pair of people at the same time. Because it was outdoors and not easy to get to, people limited the number of visits to it and then tried to make good use of those occasions. That meant people were sitting long enough to do a little reading. We had wonderful books stored there: several collections of Calvin and Hobbes plus virtually all the collections of The Far Side.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. A cliche about cabinsp is that acquiring a cabin suddenly presents you with many people who want to visit. Because our queer 16-sided cabin was so primitive, guests didn’t overstay their welcome. While outhouses are a novelty, the charm of that wears off after one visit. Since our cabin had no running water or shower, visitors became sweaty and ripe. A day or two of cabin life was enough to send them fleeing back to where showers and toilets are taken for granted.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. During my bachelor years between marriages I dabbled in reading in the loo, but the truth is, I never took to it. At the time I subscribed to the Granta magazine, and that seemed like a good place to read it, otherwise I never got around to it. But frankly, I had more comfortable places to read, and I still do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had a subscription to Granta for a year or two as well, but I couldn’t keep up. Granta introduced me to Redmond O’Hanlon though, and it was worth it just for that.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. This is a very enlightening discussion. I always thought reading in there was a ‘guy’ thing. I learned it from my dad. Mom never did that, Wife and daughter don’t do that.
    Mostly just magazines for me.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Perhaps OT, or perhaps not, depends on whether you read this in the loo. This is an excellent article about how lack of contact with others affects our brains. I found it interesting, and it probably explains why I find myself more or more comfortable alone.

    Liked by 2 people

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