Monday, February 04, 2008

On books in the loo

This past weekend, I finally finished How to Hepburn, less a biography of Katharine Hepburn than an ode to her talent, flaws, and individuality. I started the book actually hoping it would be a sort of how-to manual, but I had to content myself with amusing anecdotes. It was a pleasant read, and although it was only 191 pages long (including 3 pages of "suggested reading," which, I admit, I did not look at very closely), and despite the fact that I picked it up and read some of it nearly every day, it took me close to six months to get through the thing. Why? Because I only read it when I was in the bathroom.

Sean and I have a well-equipped bathroom library, consisting of a three-shelf bookshelf and a magazine rack. Books, magazines and catalogs migrate in and out, depending on current moods and interests. At any given time you can probably find a copy or two of ReadyMade magazine, the latest King Arthur Flour Company and Northern Sun catalogs, and all of the Straight Dope books in our lavatory. The Leonard Maltin film guide used to live in there, too, until we finally got hip to the fact that 1) we were hauling him out to the TV room all the time to settle arguments, and 2) his guide just isn't fun bathroom browsing material. Now he lives on the arm of the couch and has been replaced in the bathroom by Retakes: Behind the Scenes of 500 Classic Movies (sadly out of print) and Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's Humor Category, both of which contribute to quality time in the loo.

How does one create a bathroom library? you ask. (Maybe you don't ask. Maybe, like Norman, the thought of touching anything that has spent considerable time in the bathroom without being washed and towel-dried wigs you out so much you can barely think about it.) I suppose the answer varies from person to person. If you're my brother, for instance, lengthy tomes on Byzantine history would not be out of place in the loo library. (Oh, if only I were kidding.) For me, the best bathroom books need to meet three criteria:

1) They can be opened at random, dipped into and enjoyed at nearly any spot.
2) They should be broken into short sections that can be finished in a single, er, sitting.
3) They are ideally somewhat sensational in nature.

Catalogs and most magazines, by their very nature, meet these criteria easily. In fact, I might argue that Entertainment Weekly should only be read while one is seated on the toilet. The Straight Dope books are primo examples of the very best in bathroom reading material. (If you don't know the Straight Dope, shame on you and go visit the site. Right. Now. I have been on their mailing list since 1996 and look forward to every Friday morning when the latest update arrives and Unca Cecil reveals some new truth about the world.) I have purchased a few books with the express intent of adding them to our bathroom library, tomes such as The Grim Reaper's Book of Days (also sadly out of print) and the too-meta-by-half Bathroom Stuff (also OP, albeit not so sadly).

One lovely book I bought for the bathroom spent only an afternoon there; once I started reading it I couldn't put it down, and as I couldn't spend all day in the john, it made a quick journey back to my bedside stand, where it has lived ever since. If you ever come across Panati's Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything & Everybody (a.k.a. The Browser's Book of Endings, both editions tragically out of print), snatch it up and add it to some bookshelf in your house, whether in the bathroom or your home office. Trust me, you'll enjoy learning about bubonic plague, prehistoric mass extinctions, the evolution of the graveyard to the modern-day memorial park, and the contents of Aristotle's will. Lesson learned: bathroom reading material should be delightful, but not too delightful lest you irritate others who may be waiting to use the facilities.

So... 'fess up. Do you read in the bathroom? If so, what? Whoever spills their guts first will win a FREE BOOK (chosen by me from my personal, non-bathroom [thus, non-cootied] library) guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment on or off the commode. So be sure to include some way for me to get in touch with you.


area51 said...

My bathroom is equipped with 3 tier magazine rack on the wall right next to the toilet. The bottom rack is only for my 10 yr old son. He has an assortment of Lego catalogues, Teen Beat, and other magazines that float in and out. I find I have a variety of English decorating mags, People, and a current UFO magazine. My bathroom reading is decidedly lowbrow. I do like to look up food recipes in Sunset or Martha Stewart. I just realized that is kind of gross.

shandon said...

Congratulations, Area 51! You have won yourself a copy of Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die. And I know where to find you.

Trooperdog said...

For me, it is travel magazines. The loo is my place to dream about where I want to go. Sorry about the pun.

Caveman said...

501:Best movies of all time.