October 24, 2011

STUDY: Is reading in the loo potentially lethal?


A shocking expose in the Guardian reveals the answer to the question you’ve no doubt asked yourself — trembling — many times: Is reading in the loo dangerous to your health?

As reporter Ian Sample observes, the question has far-reaching implications — this sort of thing has, apparently, been going on for centuries:

The anonymous author of The Life of St Gregory couldn’t help but notice that the toilet of the middle ages, high up in a castle turret, offered the perfect solitude for “uninterrupted reading”; Lord Chesterfield too saluted the benefits, recounting the tale of a man who used his time wisely in the “necessary house” to work his way through Horace. This was but the beginning.

No writer owned the arena of toilet reading more than Henry Miller. He read truly great books on the lavatory, and maintained that some, Ulysses for instance, could not be fully appreciated elsewhere. The environment was one that enriched substantial works – extracted their flavour, as he put it – while lesser books and magazines suffered. He singled out Atlantic Monthly.

So what’s wrong with reading in the bathroom? Potentially plenty, reports Sample. “From a medical standpoint, there are plenty of questions to ask of toilet reading,” he says. “Does reading material become irreversibly infused with nasty contaminants when carried into the toilet? How long can unpleasant microbes live on glossy magazine covers or, for that matter, the pages of a newspaper? And what does the straightforward act of reading on the toilet do for bowel movements?”

So, whats the answer? The director of the Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Val Curtis, who is herself a “self-confessed toilet reader,” says that there is “a theoretical risk. To be blunt, bugs in your poo can get on your hands, be transferred to your reading material, and on to the hands of some other unfortunate.”

However, the risk of that happening is pretty remote.

In short, says Curtis, “We don’t need to get anal about it.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.