Books in the Bath

The thorns on this topic could be as thick and fierce as those we would find on a bishop’s rose. Reading in the bath! Otters above! Or have the days have passed when people would quiver at the very thought of taking literature into the bathroom with them? Granted, a certain level of dampness is not good for a book (witness my copy of Jarni Kolovsky’s …And I Lost which a friend of mine took on holiday to Bangladesh). On the other hand, we can no longer cling onto the belief that there are such things as ‘ideal conditions’ for reading – or that, if there were, they would be of any use. Damaging the spine of a book is nothing compared to ripping the metaphorical pages of the reading experience. The book as pure object is almost meaningless. The book as experience is almost everything. I will go on repeating this until someone tapes up my mouth and chops off my arms.

As you’ll no doubt know, reading in the bath has had a certain amount of press recently, due mostly to Zhou Wang’s book (an extension of a long-running newspaper column) Books in the Bath: A Personal Memoir; some of which I read this afternoon whilst taking a quick soak in the tub. There are many reasons why I might recommend Wang’s book, not the least of which is the fact that I am name-dropped in the preface. Thanks Wang. Still, I must warn any reader that Wang’s approach, though pleasingly seditious in part, is yet too narrow for my tastes. In my wise green eyes, Wang sometimes fails to grasp the central concept of ‘active reading’; which is that it involves not just the avoidance of accepted reading habits, but a constant renewal of any reading habits. It boils down to this: the bath is not enough. The reader must keep moving.

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