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 People had often hinted to my father that it was out of date…but he remained loyal to those tatty maroon volumes, his contemporary.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)?