Like most people just doing their best to get ahead in this world and find truth in a ‘post-truth’ existence, I keep reading material in the bathroom. If you don’t keep anything to read near the toilet, I either admire your asceticism or your swiftness (maybe both), or reject what is most certainly an addiction to your mobile device.
Given the widespread agreement that all books are great and anything can be read anywhere, it’s necessary to say, before I get into all this, that I agree. You can read anything anywhere, and I do. But I also have a general organization system when it comes to my reading life, and the current strata will show a few bed books, a collection of shorts or a respectable rag for the train, and, case in point, a toilet book or two.
If you live in New York, train reading is light (physically) and efficient. That is a truth practically universally agreed-upon. (The exception is novels, which aren’t always efficient; they cruise between strata.) It’s satisfying to have a small collection of short stories—something you can poke around in, coming and going—or a long article that can be split into morning and evening reading.
Bed books (nearly the same as couch books) are generally the bread-and-butter: this is where you find the historical biographies, the weird theory, the fat novels, and the things you might not want to be seen carrying on the train.
But when it comes to toilet books, I have the feeling there’s a wide range of unique approaches. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of magazines in the WC, but the atmosphere there—alternately wet and odorous, depending—doesn’t seem to do much for the lifespan of their delicate pages. My approach to toilet books tends (1) to the visual (2) to the humorous.
Currently, my two toilet books are Makoto Azuma’s Encyclopedia of Flowers II (the one with the red cover, not the green one) and P.G. Wodehouse’s The Girl In Blue. Why these? I’m so glad you asked!
The flower book is made up almost exclusively of juicy, vibrant, pornographic close-ups of flowers, both mundane and tropical. This is pure, glorious escapism. It also requires a certain patience: the book is rendered pointless if the reader doesn’t carefully consume each detail on a given page (there are 421). The way a lily’s thin, wrinkly arm curves around a cockscomb’s brainy, feathery head; the surprising addition of a buddha’s hand—that claw-like yellow citrus—next to a common daffodil; the way, on an all-green page, a tall, curving cactus starts to look like a snake—it’s all magic, and I don’t think bouts of escapism need justifying at a time like this. (According to a little studio bird, I’m in respectable company: Matthew Barney also keeps this title on his lav.)
The same goes for Wodehouse: this tome is on my toilet for the sake of classic escapism, but with The Girl In Blue, it’s an escape into wild sentences, punny insights, and captivating personality-centric romance. Everyone loves the wrong person to start, all the money’s in the wrong spot too, and a busty, unsinkable type is caught shoplifting. Add a mansion, and what else could you ask for? Pure joy.
Wodehouse builds a glorious scene between the classic conniving mother, Dame Flora, and the classic conniving daughter, Vera (a lauded author), wherein the young girl is convinced to marry the richer man. He’ll have zero “sales resistance” to her many charms, because not only is he rich, “he’s a man who writes little poems.” The women are having tea, and when Vera declares that the “little cakes with pink sugar on top” are fattening, Dame Flora explains that “everything in life that’s any fun, as somebody wisely observed, is either immoral, illegal, or fattening.”
Clearly, Dame Flora didn’t consider the joys of reading on the toilet.