Oh yes! We are absolutely running a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...
J. Robert Lennon is the author of a story collection, Pieces For The Left Hand, and seven novels, including Mailman, Castle, and Familiar. He also teaches writing at Cornell University. And today, he shares his ideal bathroom reading material, and we are honored.....
He wins the internet for Most Creative Use of the Scrabble Player's Dictionary!!
I'm not sure what it says about me that I considered it too private to participate in TNBBC's writing spaces series, but have no compunction about telling you what I read on the toilet, but never mind. Here's a kind of greatest-hits of my recent bathroom reading.
One hopes that one isn't going to be spending a hell of a lot of time in the bathroom, but the ideal reading material allows a bit of flexibility. It should give you something to do whether you're in there for a couple of minutes or an hour--and if it's within arm's reach of the tub, and could sustain a nice long bath, all the better. You can't go wrong with magazines, of course, and I favor the music recording nerd's reliable companion, TapeOp, and the charming anecdotal stylings of Weird NJ, which features ghost stories, local folklore, and photoessays of abandoned mental hospitals in the Garden State, my ancestral homeland. I'm also big on books that consist of lists of desirable objects. In my case, these are generally cameras and analog synthesizers, which is why I always have Peter Forrest's amazing The A-Z of Analog Synthesizers and Jason Schneider's three-volume Camera Collecting close at hand. I think these are out of print, but they're worth finding used, if you like these things. And speaking of music, the 33+1/3 series of short books about classic albums is always good for a bit of distraction--especially my favorite of the series that I've read, The Gilded Palace of Sin, by my friend, indie bookseller Bob Proehl, from Ithaca's Buffalo Street Books.
I haven't mentioned any actual literature yet, so let me convey my admiration for the compact Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Like most writers, I consider Lydia a hero and a delight, and her short-short stories make excellent diversions for one's tiled inner sanctum. I'm also a big fan of Lawrence Block's Keller series of stories about a contract killer--the first collection, Hit Man, is a classic. I'm also fond of graphic fiction in the bathroom--like this back issue of Drawn & Quarterly. And in the random-reading category, I will add the long, poorly written, and utterly baffling manual for whatever electronic object I happen to be learning to use (at the moment, a Fujifilm camera), and Merriam-Webster's Official Scrabble Players' Dictionary, which I peruse in a perennial, and completely pointless, effort to beat my wife at the game once and for all. It's never going to happen, however much gastrointestinal distress I suffer.
I've always wondered what authors would think if they were to hear that their books were being appreciated in the bathroom, but more importantly, enhancing your Scrabble skills while on the throne? Priceless!