Bathroom reading

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For some the bathroom bookshelf is a place of honor, for others a place where bad books go to die. In his entertaining New York Times essay “Chamber Plots,” writer Henry Alford explores the hidden motivations behind the books we choose to keep in that most private of chambers. [Note: Registration required.]

An excerpt: “Most scholars contend that bathroom reading is largely a modern pursuit: the chamber pots and outhouses in use prior to the 1920’s and 30’s were not ideal for perusing texts. Yet Roman baths contained libraries wherein one could pore over scrolls, and ‘The Life of St. Gregory’ (1296-1359) recommends the isolated retreat of the medieval fortress toilet — located high up in towers, close to heaven, so as to offset the perceived baseness of the act being committed — as a place for uninterrupted reading. ‘The Old Farmer’s Almanac,’ whose pages were often ripped out by people in outhouses and put to practical use, has always come with a hole in its upper left-hand corner for easy hanging. A collection of summaries of literary works published in 1991 as ‘Compact Classics’ fared poorly in the marketplace until it was renamed ‘The Great American Bathroom Book,’ whereupon its first volume sold a million copies. Indeed, so profitable is this publishing niche that you can now buy waterproof books and books shaped like toilets. And, as George Costanza said on ‘Seinfeld’ when he was forced to buy a book he had taken into a bookstore bathroom, ‘I got news for you — if it wasn’t for the toilet, there would be no books.’”

While I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with George Costanza, it does strike me that a book prominently displayed in the bathroom is more likely to get noticed by guests than one placed anywhere else in the home, which is why I might suggest that those wishing to show off their newly minted Blurb books give them a seat of honor next to the porcelain throne.

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