Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Books To Keep In The Bathroom

I have a 341-page book in the bathroom. I don't know why it's there; I never read it. I guess it's supposed to keep the 221-page book company. Or the hundred pager on E.W. Thomson's correspondence with Archibald Lampman. Yes, those are all in my bathroom right now. And there's an LCBO glossy ad showing whiskies for sale (in September 2006). I've also got a collection of New York Times editorials, and a novella explaining why the New Yorker is anti-Caribbean.

Not many people keep books or magazines in their bathrooms. But the ones who do tend to keep a selection. My grandfather used to have eight or ten Time magazines in his upstairs john; downstairs: the complete run of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. I read the SI's and ogled the Time covers.

I'm not sure what the rationale is behind bathroom reading. The Seinfeld line is, to paraphrase, re: the bathroom, "I understand Gutenberg spent a fair deal of time in there."

How much can you really get through in the head? A page? Two pages? I think people who like to read so crave quiet spaces they can't pass up the chance.

There is no etiquette re: reading in the bathroom. By that I mean the kind of books you can bring into the can. Library books are fine. And it's OK to leave them in there to get steamed and warped by the shower, or sprayed with mouthwash. You're not supposed to know where your book's been. Witness a friend of mine who was eating fusilli pasta with meat sauce, and using the plate to prop open a library copy of GBS's Major Barbara. Every time he'd take a mouthful he'd get tomato on the page. But that was OK; it was a library book.

(I've never known anyone to read in a public bathroom or a bathroom at work. That would be interesting to see. I've never used the head at a publishing house, but I'm sure they hand out samples at the door.)

I'm sure we've all noticed weird stains on our copies of Huck Finn. Was it from a tubercular former reader who disdained to cover his mouth? Probably. Sometimes I wonder if eighty-year-old germ cultures are still active. But to a greater extent it's mostly ear wax, poppy seeds, and fruit stickers that decorate circulating copies. I'm sure this is some kind of "marking territory" behaviour, but why then the bathroom?

Oh, right.

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