Thursday, February 26, 2015

The bathroom library

Today while browsing Apartment Therapy (the home website that I'm hoping to make my new substitute for Young House Love), I came across an article called "How Not to Embarrass People Who Use Your Bathroom." The article itself offers advice for thoughtful hosts about cleaning the bathroom well, having plenty of toilet paper on hand, and providing a means to cover up embarrassing noises or odors. What particularly interested me, however, was the comments below, where one person raised the topic of "reading materials"—and immediately got a host of shrill responses about how "gross" it is to read in the bathroom. "I don't want unwashed hands on my reading materials," protested one reader, following it up with "(shudder)."

This widespread reaction, I'll admit, kind of baffled me. I can see why you might think it's gross for people to pick up and handle books after using the toilet (and before washing their hands), but why is it gross for them to do so while using the toilet? Their hands are, at this point, no dirtier than they were before they went into the bathroom, and presumably you don't hide all your books before every party to make sure that no one touches them with hands that haven't been freshly washed. (I mean, unless you're truly disturbed and in need of psychiatric help.)

Speaking for myself, I like to keep reading material of some sort in every room of the house, and the bathroom is no exception. Of course, I always try to make sure that the material I keep in there is particularly suitable for the, ahem, function of the room, so I try to select books or magazines that are broken up into nice, small nuggets that can easily be consumed in a short visit. My upstairs bathroom has a small basket on top of the toilet tank, containing:
  • Living on Less, a collection of pieces from Mother Earth News magazine about "affordable food, fuel, and shelter"—an appropriate assortment for our ecofrugal household;
  • Ex Libris, a collection of whimsical essays about books by Anne Fadiman;
  • Idiots, Hypocrites, Demagogues, and More Idiots: Not-So-Great Moments in American Politics a collection of amusing gaffes of various sorts from American public figures; and
  • Humorous Cryptograms, an assortment of puzzles that I keep in there mainly for my own use, since they're just about long enough for me to solve during a single potty break.
That, I think, makes a fairly nice assortment—a blend of the amusing and the informative, all in handy bite-sized chunks. In the downstairs bath, I have a similar blend of genres on the shelf of our refinished corner cabinet that sits opposite the toilet:
  • 6 months' worth of Atlantic magazines that I got from a freebie subscription (why keep them on the coffee table when the bathroom is so much more suitable for reading while visiting a friend?);
  • a collection of New Yorker cartoon puzzles (the puzzles have all been solved already, so now it's really just a collection of New Yorker cartoons with writing in it);
  • The Utne Reader Alamanac, an assortment of "123 Ideas, Innovations & Insights" on topics such as daily life, work, relationships, the media, and spirituality;
  • The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, a collection of advice on how to survive situations you're extremely unlikely ever to find yourself in, from alligator attacks to leaping from a moving car; and
  • The Best of Bad Hemingway, a set of winners and runner-ups from the annual Bad Hemingway contest, which challenges writers to come up with "a really good page of really bad Hemingway."
So that's my bathroom library, and frankly, I feel like I'm a much more considerate hostess for providing it (not to mention I always have something to occupy myself in either bathroom). How about you? Do you keep books in the bathroom, or do you think that's gross? And if so, can you explain to me why?
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