September 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
According to 9gag and other meme sites on the internet, a lot of people take their smartphone with them when they go to the bathroom. The world reportedly plays 5 million hours of Angry Birds per day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if about half of this happened on the loo. Now, I don’t have a smartphone and therefore I have to fall back on the centuries-old entertainment of reading on the toilet. Have you ever noticed how many people, even your average non-readers, have books or magazines in the bathroom? I hereby admit that I myself am a toilet reader. I’m an everywhere reader, so it’s only natural that I also read there, isn’t it?
But what makes the “smallest room” such a popular place for reading? Sitting on the toilet is a bit like using public transport, and I’m not talking about the smell here. You are immobilised in a certain position for some time, so you can as well use that time for something productive. Neither the bathroom nor train seats are the ideal place to get your painting supplies out, but a book fits into your handbag or onto your window sill. It’s a wonderful occasion to read a few pages (or to launch some birds with a sling shot – but let’s stick with reading here).
Now picture the following scene from the author’s private life: My grandmother is invited to dinner at our house, and being the polite person that she is, she has brought a little gift for the host. “Here, I noticed that you sometimes read books on the toilet”, she says and hands my mother a book. My mother quickly examines the book, says thanks and puts it away. Later on, she gives it to me and I decide to give it a try as my new toilet read. It’s Bill Fitzhugh’s novel Pest Control, a nice little piece of fiction so far.
What makes a book an appropriate toilet read? In the end, it’s up to you what you read on the toilet, but I can tell you that I will not attempt to conquer the Magic Mountain on the loo. A good toilet book shouldn’t be too difficult to follow because your reading sessions are likely to be very short. That’s why I usually prefer books at the lower end of the acceptable scale – you won’t find horrible chick lit on the window sill in my bathroom, but I like some contemporary fiction with few characters and few big ideas. Books with short, anecdotic chapters are great toilet reads, and to all my German readers I strongly recommend the Känguru-Manifest by Marc-Uwe Kling.
Short story collections are a good choice as well. Someone who happens to live here is currently making their way through a collection of the “best German short stories”, selected and edited by the German literary pope Reich-Ranicki. Short satiric texts are very entertaining too, but you might break into laughter on the loo, and this might lead to an awkward moment when you come back and you have company. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.
There are people who think they’re too busy for reading, and there might even be people who actually are so busy all day long that they can’t dedicate time to the sweet indulgence that is reading. These people are your non-readers, but nevertheless, you might fight a book or at least a magazine in their bathroom. Even they have to admit that during those private minutes, they have “nothing better” to do anyway, so why not read a few pages.
Last but not least, you can also make a statement through your loo literature. Whenever I’m at someone’s place, I instinctively scan their bookshelf. If it’s well stocked, I might fail to notice their most important books. If you want people to know that you own Being and Nothingness, why not put it on your bathroom window sill? Sooner or later your guests will have to powder their nose and they’ll see what a great intellectual you are. On a second thought, why not leave the Communist Manifesto there? Politics don’t stop at the bathroom door.