Black, White and Read: The art of bathroom reading

Don’t be ashamed — MOVE columnist Katherine Rosso has done it, and you should too.

I know this sounds weird, but I love bathroom reading. I’m admitting it now, however embarrassing it is. It can be an article on your phone or a full-on novel, but with bathroom reading, you get a few minutes (or more) of uninterrupted time to focus in peace and quiet, and it’s great.

When I was 10 and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” came out, I went on vacation with my family and a couple friends. My mom surprised me with the book as a present, but warned me not to spend all my time reading, consequently ignoring everyone I was with. To get around this, it was my genius idea to secretly read the book in the restroom — which didn’t work because I would be in there for three to four hours — but I still tried to pass it off as if I was sincerely using the golden throne. I sat on the linoleum floor reading the whole time and then casually went back outside, saying, ‘Sorry guys, I was in the bathroom — I didn’t mean for it to take so long.’ I got through the entire tome-sized novel in the weekend, mostly in that same restroom.

You probably think that this goofy idea would not sustain throughout my life, but that would be slightly underestimating me as a crazy reader. All throughout my childhood, my mom would find her kid sitting quietly on the washroom tile, reading a novel, whether it was “Harry Potter” or “The Bell Jar.” These days, I often read New Yorker articles or short stories in my bathroom free time, but there’s nothing like dedicating some time simply to reading a great book.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading a 759-page novel for hours on the restroom floor, it is still a pretty calming place to read a good small book or a collection of short fiction or essays. “Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances” by Neil Gaiman is a great anthology of both prose and poetry, consisting mostly of the author’s short stories. The compendium doesn’t have an exact common theme, but many of the narratives are slightly dark, which is what the “trigger warning” title is alluding to. In true Neil Gaiman style, this book is a reading experience. The stories are visceral and incredible in their structure. Although most of these tales have been published elsewhere, the compilation highlights the best part of Gaiman’s writing — his obvious love of telling stories. I promise that when you finish one story and find you have to go, you’ll be bummed. And when the book ends? It results in a melancholic longing that can last for weeks.

While short stories definitely have their place, bathroom reading should certainly not be limited to smaller pieces. One of the best parts about reading in the restroom is that you have the ability to be so focused. I mean, really, what else do you have to do in there than read? Other than actually going to the bathroom, of course.

That means you have the opportunity to get through slightly more complicated books, and it’s no problem precisely because there are no distractions. While you likely won’t binge an entire novel like me with “Harry Potter,” a really great reading option is “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. The book was turned into a semi-creepy movie with Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, but the book is incredible. The story is told largely in memories from the aging character of Jacob Jankowski, a man who was going to college to become a veterinarian until his parents were killed in a car accident. After dropping out, Jankowski gets on a train in the middle of the night, a train that turns out to connected with a circus — The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The book is very dark and gritty, unapologetically portraying mental illness, abuse and human sexuality, but it is also raw and honest, revealing the good of the world in unexpected places.

I know, I know. Reading in the bathroom is supposed to be a thing you’re sort of ashamed of. While restroom reading is a little bit weird in public places, there should be no shame in doing it in the privacy of your own home. You can even go to the length of getting a little shelf so that you can even keep a few books in your washroom permanently. So instead of scrolling the same old Twitter feed for your spare minutes of calm, pick up a book and just sit and read. The peace and quiet is a great shift from the rushed, busy life of a college student, and it might be just what you need for a little relaxation. While the art of bathroom reading may be an under-appreciated one, it’s a valuable one nonetheless, and one we should all learn to practice.

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