Page-turner: Now please let's wash our hands

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The Independent Culture

Just what is the connection in some people's minds between reading and excretion? I knew a reviewer who could scarcely pass a literary judgement without a scatological reference or a quip that the book under review be kept in the smallest room. This tendency culminated in an elaborate metaphor involving stool consistency and tips for light reading matter for a short transit time, to weighty volumes for when you're planning to be in there a while. Ugh! I rang up to protest. "But you see," came the languid response, "in my family, putting a book in the loo is really rather a compliment."

You might have guessed that this person was a bit of a toff. Perhaps it's the formative memories of nanny, but poo is posh. In our 'ouse you didn't linger long in't lavvy, it were that cold and dark. (We even had an outside loo at one point.) You would be amazed how often such lavatorial comments have to be edited out of IoS reviews.

Other publications are not quite so particular. James Delingpole in this month's Literary Review praises Harry Mount's A Lust for Windowsills in the following ringing, or perhaps merely plopping terms: "It will become a Christmas bestseller, and be pored over for decades in every British downstairs bog with a wooden seat." Every British downstairs bog, eh, James? Lord Snooty couldn't have put it better.

I refuse to believe that any writer struggles for years on a book, spurred on by the image of its future reader straining on the pot (especially if it's Delingpole). Why, even those of us who struggle for minutes writing a column hate the idea. Which is why I wish the good folk at the zany, sometimes downright bizarre literary magazine Pop Cult hadn't decided to tag it "Essential reading for the bathroom". It even comes with a health warning: "Sitting on a toilet for prolonged periods, whether reading Pop Cult or not, can cause conditions such as thrombosis or haemorroids."

The editor, Keegan Wilson, offered this spirited defence: "The bathroom is a haven of quiet solitude away from distraction... It offers respite and sanctuary from everything hectic, noisy and demanding that lies behind its locked door. Okay, okay, it's good branding for us."

Good little mag, I like it. But of course it isn't suitable for toilets, wooden seat or not. The paper's far too shiny.