Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The Bathroom Book
Reading in the bathroom is a cultural tradition. Whether sitting on the pot, or languishing in the tub, or sitting in the window alcove, reading in the bathroom is a form of pleasurable relaxation, an indulgence, a slightly louche depravity, a private thing which you don't have to share, a mixing of bodily service with mental diversion.
Reading may be about waiting, or occupying yourself when there's nothing else to do. There's necessary reading, compulsive reading, ceremonial reading. But reading in the bathroom is about personal preference--you get to choose.
Reading on the pot may not be a good thing. Doctors tell us that we shouldn't spend too much time there, since it can be a sign of unhealthy bowels. You can develop symptoms if you sit there too long.
Reading in the tub's a different matter. If you stay too long, the water may get cold, or your skin may become water-logged, and wrinkle up. Some people like to drink in the tub. You can have music on, a drink on the ledge, and a novel in your hand. That's involving all your senses at the same time. And then there are people who like to keep a phone handy, just in case. But reading and talking on the phone seem mutually exclusive to me. Reading by yourself in the bath isn't the same as being in touch. It's more like being deliberately out of touch.
I don't think there's a sexual distinction here. Anyone can read in the bathroom, and lots of people do.
What kinds of books are best for the john? Personally, in cases where I can't devote hours to the task, I tend not to prefer books that require a train of attention, like novels or non-fiction studies. I like to skip around and pick things at random. That means I like anthologies of poetry, or books of quotations, or selections of brief prose extracts, which you can sample, without having to keep track of characters and plots and threads of argument. I can read as much or as little as I like, and not get stuck in the middle, or frustrated by having to leave it hanging.
While reading too long on the commode is not recommended, reading in the tub always carries the risk of water getting on your book, or of actually dropping your book into the water. It's best to confine your tub reading to cheap mass market paperbacks, just in case of accidents.
Probably, in the current scene, people are more likely to want to be on the phone than reading a book. Reading a book is a solitary activity, and no one seems to want to be alone anymore. It's important today for everyone to be constantly tagging and tweeting and teasing each other on their hand-helds. The idea of occupying yourself for more than a few minutes, alone, may be an old-fashioned habit, may be more than some people can stand. Kids today, even young adults, seem to feel lost without their devices. "What's happening?!"
I gotta go.