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The Reading Room

Friday, September 21, 2012 8:37 AM Comments (47)

Every so often, the posts in this blog elicit some grumbling over what does and does not constitute appropriate reading material for Catholics.  From one camp, the argument goes, "Life is short!  Far to short for fol-de-rol.  Our eternal souls are at stake, so it's not just a matter of taste -- it's an actual sin to waste time talking about things that are not clearly and specifically labelled 'Catholic' and designed expressly to improve our spiritual state."

The other argument goes, "Yeah, but if you're going to be Catholic all the time, that means going about your business as a Catholic.  You just assume that everything you say is from a Catholic point of view, and you don't have to go to the trouble of labeling it "Catholic," any more than a professional runner has to secure sponsorship from Nike every time he trots across the street to mail a letter.  After all, that's the wonderful thing about being a Catholic:  you don't have to fragment yourself.  You don't have to have church-you and regular-you.  You're not half body and half soul; you're a bodysoul, whose nature is to live in this world while preparing to move to the next."

In short, there is nothing especially holy about being constipated, in body or in soul.

And that, my friends, is the only excuse you're going to get for the following.

I can't live a day longer without one of these wastebaskets in my bathroom:

 

Now, I'm sure that some of y'all are too refined to admit that you read on the toilet, but why? It's the quietest place in the house, at least until the dear ones figure out you're in there. Sure, the ambiance leaves something to be desired, but by gum, a place to sit down is a place to sit down.

Anyway, one of my happiest childhood memories was of the bathroom journal we used to keep. It was called, naturally, "The Toilet Paper." (This was before the days of the internet, or else there would certainly have been some terrible puns about what you downloaded today.)

"The Toilet Paper," as I recall it, was a series of competitions, such as, "How many rhyming two-word phrases can you name, in which the first word begins with an H?" There are lots!  Hoity toity!  Hoi Polloi!  Harum scarum.  Higgldy piggledy.  Hotsy totsy.  Humdrum.  Hoopy frood.  Okay, that doesn't rhyme, but a really amazingly together guy would not let that slow him down.  In its heyday  (Heyday!  There's another one.  Boy, good game, huh?) The Toilet Paper even had a masthead, featuring an anthropomorphized roll of toilet paper striking a heroic pose, with a few unfurled squares streaming out behind him like a cape.  And even when people weren't getting along, we had this common bond, this living historical record of the kind of ideas that go through your head when your guard is down.

Anyway, "The Toilet Paper" temporarily solved a perennial problem: what to put in the bathroom to read? You have to have something, and even the most compulsive reader will eventually tire of the terse elegance of "Talcum powder.  Ingredients:  Talc."  Short, episodic reads are best, but if you put something good, then people will just take it with them. So How To Get From January To December by Will Cuppy, while hilarious and perfectly suited for quick reads, never stayed put for long. Ditto for anything by Bob and Ray.

Also, if you put something too nice, it would end up . . . you know, damp.

So my mother solved this dilemma by keeping the bathroom stocked with the most tedious, unreadable stuff available, which was always in good supply in our house, because my father was unable to turn down a book of any kind. I remember when he arranged for a huge dumpster full of books to be deposited in the driveway. Why were they such a steal? Oh, some little matter of devastating fire and water damage. But they were so cheap!

Thus, what was available was Grotesquely Dull Science Fiction, 1952-1954, a pamphlet describing the watershed system in Connecticut, and something by St. Bonaventure with the last few pages missing (whodunit? We'll never know). Unless you wanted to read the back of the talcum powder can again, that was pretty much it -- no reason to linger. Really kept the line going.

But I think I've come up with an even better solution.  I came across an old library sale copy of Words Into Type, which, according to the conveniently dustjacketed flyleaf, is "a classic among style manuals, an invaluable reference source for many of the fine points of grammar, usage, style, and production methods."

So if you open up to page 228, you will learn that

Adjectives ending in -like are usually one word except when the root ends in two l's or is a proper noun or an adjective.

Do not combine adjectives with -like as in globularlike; use either globular or globulelike.

Add -like to an open compound (for example, bone spicule) as follows:  bone-spiculelike.

And it goes on like that.  Isn't that magnificent?  There are 581 pages of sage, grave, irrefutable advice put together by a largely nameless collection of "other authorities" whose hearts belong to grammar.  I just love it.  It's like seeing an old man who takes the time to put on a three-piece suit in time for the mailman every morning.  It's eminently entertaining, for bathroom visit-like increments, because it has words in it -- interesting, interesting words; and yet . . . nobody's going to steal this book.  I feel sure of it.  I feel froodlike.

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About Simcha Fisher

Simcha Fisher
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Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and nine children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.