The Reading Room
When I was growing up, I remember the two upstairs bathrooms of our house as reading rooms.
In the turquoise bathroom off my parents’ master bedroom, Herman Wouk’s Winds of War seemed to have taken up permanent residence. My mother was a dedicated reader although obviously not a graduate of any Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Course.
Weeks may have gone by before page markings showed any progress. With husband and daughters asleep, during late night hours, my mother used to like to smoke a cigarette on the toilet and read.
My sister Ronna’s favorite book, even in paperback, seemed too big to pick up and finish under any circumstances let alone in short bathroom sessions, yet I always spied it in the pink bathroom that we shared with our sister Barbara.
At fourteen, I wondered how she could digest such a tome, yet I could count on her book being somewhere on the dull pink patterned vanity. She never got tired of reading and re-reading the classic. I never seemed to get beyond the first page.
“…Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were…”
I hadn’t thought about reading on the toilet for years, not until recently. John, my new partner, seems to have a library of magazines in his bathroom, and yes I have re-kindled my appreciation for the indulgence.
His bathroom library includes local magazines with restaurant reviews and a season’s worth of New Yorkers; maybe an issue or two of Esquire or The Atlantic. The New Yorker is always good for a cartoon if not for some kind of article on something I would never have thought about but will undoubtedly bring into conversations now that a subject’s been called to my attention. (Just the other week, I read about the popularity of workplace novels in China. Have you ever heard of the genre?)
Reading for pleasure or to stay culturally informed, reading without a goal of subject mastery, seems to be hard to make time for.
Yes, people will crowd subway cars with their Kindles to kill time, reading page turners by virtually turning the pages. I will pick up junk magazines at the health club so I can pour over topics like “Which celeb looks best in the Michael Kors frock?” while I raise my heart rate and marvel at how much I can sweat.
But this kind of reading does not impart the same pleasure. It’s done to fill time. And reading to fill time between doing other things does not seem to confer the same level of reflection, sense of discovery or respect for language. Besides, some kinds of reading are done in public. And bathroom reading…it’s oh so private.
Isn’t it a special joy to retreat to a clean and quiet chamber and, accompanied by the barely audible buzz of the fluorescent tube, scan an issue of Rolling Stone and learn about some unsung hero, a Pentagon whistleblower, or contemplate the next restaurant you want to try after you have replenished your bank account a little?
Bathroom reading is about private time, a luxury for sure. It’s also about openness and curiosity – and about paper.
Yes, I suppose you could consider me a Tory in the Cyber Revolution, but I love seeing words on paper, and I love the eclectic range and serendipity of what reading material you might find in someone else’s bathroom, their reading room.
Maybe the bathroom is the last place someone would bring their laptop; the last android free zone. Maybe bathroom reading rooms represent the last place where we read what is in front of us, surrendering and respecting chance, and not pre-select material as the result of a Google search.
Having a private relationship with words and taking little reflective retreats – even in five minute doses – is no small thing.
Deborah Hawkins © reprinted with Permission