Friday, May 15, 2009

Bathroom Books

So yes, I know, there is a whole schism between people who keep bathroom books as a matter of course and people who wouldn't be caught dead with books in their bathroom, and I don't really care what anybody else does. Me, I was brought up with books -- or rather periodicals, the New Yorker and National Geographic and New York Review of Books -- in the bathroom, so as far as I'm concerned that's business as usual. No pun intended.

And really, the main reason to have books in the bathroom is for guests. I mean, I appreciate them now and then, especially for toothbrushing purposes -- bless my Sonicare, which beeps when it's time to switch and enables that much more close reading for two minutes twice a day -- but it's not usually necessary. I tend to carry whatever I'm reading from room to room, like a blankie, or keep upstairs and downstairs reading matter, so it's not often that I'm caught without.

But when people come over, you want to have a little something there for them. Figure that unless they're spending the night, the only time they have that's private and out from under your scrutiny is in the bathroom, with the door closed. That's their chance to bust loose and really have a look around. And let's face it, the best way to siphon their attention away from your medicine cabinet or the dust bunnies behind the toilet is to provide them with some good reading matter and an easy way to make snap judgments about your erudition, or lack thereof.

I'll even go so far as to break this down into Upstairs Bathroom Reading and Downstairs Bathroom Reading. The books upstairs are mainly for overnight guests, and tend to be a little meatier -- stuff people can spirit into the guest room and read before bed. The far and away most popular item has been Vice Do's and Don'ts: Ten Years of Vice Magazine's Street Fashion Critiques, a birthday present from my then-teenage son who knows me better than I know myself.
Also popular are Mario Livio's The Golden Ratio (although I could be fooling myself about that one)
and a wonderful $3 book called Manhattan Kaleidoscope: A Genial, Rambling Account of the New York Scene 1870-1945.
Now the downstairs bathroom books operate under a whole different premise, which is that its occupants are here for the day or evening and will only spend minutes at a time there, so the reading matter needs to be light and accessible in snippets. A quick check of the downstairs bathroom gives us:
National Lampoon's Big Book of Sex Love

What Wendell Wants: Or, How to Tell If You're Obsessed with Your Dog
Writing New York: A Literary Anthology
Strange Red Cow and Other Curious Classified Ads From the Past They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases
Five Flights Up and Other New York Apartment Stories
Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe (OK, that one's neither light nor accessible in snippets. I'm not quite sure how it got there.)

And my very favorite:
Voltaire's Alphabet of Wit, which I got for a buck on Seventh Avenue and 28th Street in 2005. This one is beyond marvelous:
HAPPINESS: Can one man be happier than another? It is clear that a man who has the gout and stone, who has lost his money, his good name, his wife and family, and who is about to be hanged after having been mangled, is less happy than a young, vigorous sultan, or La Fontaine's cobbler. But how are we to determine which is the happier of two men equally healthy, prosperous, and placed in society? Their temperaments must decide it. The most moderate, the least worrisome, the most keenly perceptive is the most happy; but unfortunately the most keenly perceptive is often the least moderate. It is not our position, but our disposition, which renders us happy. Our disposition depends on the functioning of our organs, over which we have no control.
So hey, y'all come on over and read for a bit. Drinks are on the house, and all the toilet paper and hand soap you can use. Don't even bother looking in the medicine cabinet -- all the prescription bottles are for the animals.

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Blogger Levi Stahl said...

Wow--I'll admit you really got me with Voltaire's Alphabet of Wit! Is it really Voltaire? It sounds amazing.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

Did I ever tell you that when I visited you in June of 2005 I spent two hours (in the middle of the night) locked in your downstairs bathroom? Just sitting on the floor and reading; enjoying the solitude of that space and being ever so grateful there was something to read there.

I am a fan of your bathroom books.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Levi, I think so. It cross-references with Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary (and dammit, there goes my weekend). It's one of those little Peter Pauper Press books -- the same one that published all those great "Casseroles from A to Z" type books in the 50s.

I do like this return from Googling it, though, from "Members who requested this book also requested..." Now that's erudite.

Debi, I did not know that. This, obviously, is why I blog.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Margarita said...

You know I have a confession to make here. My tiny bathroom is dedicated to the catalogs and magazines of the type of "How to Spend It" from the weekend issue of the financial times. The guises of western consumerism have never stopped fascinating me ever since I first came here to study in 1992. No outrage, I don't buy at least one thing from every catalog, and all the stuff ends up in the recycling anyway, but the inventive tricks of design and photography to disguise the most utilitarian things as *desire* have provided a constant source of wonder in the only room where we all have to stop and slow down. Anyway, You know I am always game to descend on you for a glas of wine, and I will be sure to peruse the bathroom books. No worries - I will give plenty of warning :)

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the hot water is the faucet on the left, yes?

Very cool bathroom reading. Like you, I'm generally carrying my reading material; all I've got in there are catalogs, my alumni mag, and "Edible Brooklyn." As a guest, I do approve of interesting offerings of this kind, although if they are really beguiling, and the company is not, it can be dangerous.

6:23 AM  

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