From War Poetry to Rob Da Bank: Best Books for the Bog

An offering of the best short reads for when nature calls.
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An offering of the best short reads for when nature calls.

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An old flatmate used to take half an hour every time he went to the toilet; he had a copy of The Wasp Factory that he left in there, and would pick it up once a day for that half an hour, and read it over the course of a month. He then did the same with The Crow Road, though I moved out before he finished it.

I’ve always been more of a get-in-an-go sort of chap; no-one wants to draw the process out.  As such, my all-time favourite toilet reads have tended to be cartoons, compendiums, collected interviews and short stories. Frankly, I find impossible to imagine how anyone goes in there without something to take their mind off the reality of what’s actually happening. Here’s what’s in there as of 11am this morning.

The Far Side GalleryCollection A huge compendium of 3 other Far Side books, it was given to me sometime around the age of 16, and it still makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. Larson brilliantly mixes cynicism, silliness and dagger-sharp insight into human nature.

Dave Eggers Short Short Stories The newest addition that I picked up for a quid from Jambala, a second-hand bookshop run by the Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green.  600 words (two pages) max, often a lot less, these are the perfectlength for your bog-standard (arf arf) ablution. I haven’t actually read any of Eggers novels yet, but intend to after this- most of these work brilliantly as self-contained vignettes that leave you feeling like you’ve read a proper story. No mean feat in so few words.

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1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die The title is pretty self-explanatory- each record has a 200 word description, whilst some are accompanied by a track-listing and info regarding which songs off the album were singles. The fallacy is that I always think I should be utilising this time to discover a new album, but invariably end up flicking to favourites to re-read churned-out facts I already know.  I can virtually recite the Born To Run entry by heart.

A Hard Days Write Another Christmas gift from my mum that has proved brilliant value; this one is the story behind every Beatles song.  The level of research is staggering at times, especially when you consider that writer Steve Turner isn’t just talking about ‘Hey Jude’, but also all that nonsense on the Anthology albums (‘Los Paranoias’, anyone?).  Didn’t know that ‘Dear Prudence’ was actually a plea to Prudence Farrow, younger sister of Mia, to stop meditating in her room and come out and play when they were all faffing about in India? You’re welcome.

Boy And Girl- Robert Gross/Robert Geers A funny little hardback cartoon book from a charity shop in Putney. Pretty poor illustrations tell the story of a boy and a girl that really like each other, but play so many games that they end up not getting together. There’s a message in there somewhere. If there was ever an indicator of its place in literary history, it’s that I’ve searched loads on the internet (ie the first page of Google) and no picture exists of it.

Siegfried Sassoon- The War Poems   Little read.

Tom Waits- Innocent When You Dream Left over from a previous flatmate who went to South America, this collection of the great mans’ interviews is as entertaining as it is enlightening (surely all you’re looking for in this situation?).  Sourced from such sources as Playboy, Rolling Stone, The Onion and a wide range of local publications like the Toronto Star, it’s basically a stream of his anecdotes-most of which aren’t true- indispersed with snatches of insight into how he works, from his years at Island Records, up until Blood Money/Alice.   Proof if ever it were needed that if he were not a songwriter, he would have made a brilliant stand-up comedian.

Rob Da Bank’s A-Z Of Festivals. I thought I knew my shit about festivals, but it’s nothing compared to RdB. He is relentlessly nice about them all, which could be a little bit suspicious, butis more indicative of the fact that this is a guy who clearly has an enduring love for the institution of the music festival.  Turns out he proposed at Glasto; apparently his last memory of the evening that followed is “vomiting bright green sick while laughing uproariously at the Stone Circle.” Sweet romance!

Notes Of A Dirty Old Man- Charles Bukowski Given to me as a present by a very perceptive ex (we’d only been seeing each other a few weeks).  A collection of Bukowski’s articles for the Open City paper that was circulated in LA in the late 60s, it only affirms the writer’s reputation as boozer and fornicator in-chief. Each is a mini-tale from his life- or that of his alter-ego Henry Chinaski- concern him and the rabble of freaks, addicts and literary names he surrounded himself with.  At times virtually unreadable, at others so on-the-nose with regards to human beings you’d hate him if it wasn’t so good.

Calvin And Hobbes: It’s A Magical World- Bill Watterson Without doubt my favourite book in there, though really that compliment should be rolled out to the Calvin and Hobbes series as whole.  There’s been one of their books in my toilet since the age of 12, and they only get funnier.  The wide-ranging appeal of these cartoon tales of a 6 year old boy and his is/isn’t he imaginary tiger, Hobbes, lies in the fact that when you are young you empathise with Calvin’s plight (having to go to school/bed early, not liking his parents), and are furiously jealous of his rebellious nature.  As you get older and reap the benefits of repeated reading (and a better vocabulary- how many 6 year olds do you know talk about spurning neo-deconstructivism in favour of suburban post-modernism?) you realise that through these two seemingly arbitrary cartoon characters, Watterson is doodling about the things that affect all of us, whatever our age. It’s pretty funny, too.