Debate: should you keep books pristine?

Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

From: Alice Vincent
To: Stephen Carlick

Subject: Rub-a-dub-dub

Hey Stephen,

How’s it going? I hope you had a nice weekend, in spite of those gale-force winds causing havoc with your al fresco reading. Such is British summer.

On the matter of inclement reading situations, I wondered if you had considered that most sophisticated of reading scenarios: the bath.

I imagine I’ll look back on lockdown and mostly think of baths. Some days I even consider taking two. Baths, and reading: because what better activity is there to do while one slowly stews in one’s own grime?

I urge you to try it, if you’ve not already. There’s no finer thing on a grey and blustery day: a steaming bath and a good book.

All the best,

Alice

From: Stephen Carlick
To: Alice Vincent

Subject: Re: Rub-a-dub-dub

Hey Alice, 

Thanks! I do love an al fresco reading sesh, but alas, the wind turning the pages for me wasn't ideal. The only thing that might have made it worse was the rain that came shortly after the wind picked up. British summers, indeed.

But Alice! Surely you can’t be serious about reading in the bath. I love a bath as much as the next person, but I brought my book inside to avoid the imminent water from above – why on Earth would I go to that trouble only to hold it perilously above water from below? 

Separately, I love a steaming bath and a good book, but together? That’s just a steaming book. At the end of a good soak, after streaming an episode or two, my fingers are wrinkled up like raisins; the thought of my beautiful books all puckered with bathwater breaks my literary heart in two. Practically speaking, I have questions.

Alice, as a friend – and for the sake of your books – I beg you to reconsider!

Booklessly bathing,

Stephen

From: Alice Vincent
To: Stephen Carlick

Subject: Re: Re: Rub-a-dub-dub

Hey Stephen,

Yes, we take a jumper and factor 30 everywhere between May and September – it’s just for the best.

Hang on… you don’t read in the bath? I genuinely find this difficult to believe. I can understand if you’re one of those Kindle types, but as we’ve previously discussed, you prefer physical copies – ideally ones never lent to, nor borrowed from, other people – which are far more practical around water.  

To read in the bath is one of the most civilised ways one can spend an hour, soothing for body and mind. If nothing else, it’s deeply efficient: there are at least 10 minutes of reading while the thing is filling up, then a further half an hour during the soaking. When else can you dedicate 40 uninterrupted minutes to a book of an evening (or, let’s face it, an afternoon)?

In answer to your practical questions: having a “book towel” nearby is crucial to ensure dry hands. Fortunately, my bathroom is so tiny that the towel rack is easily accessible from inside the bath. If your hands get wet, you simply dry them, then pick up the book again. As for peril, well, sometimes pages will get wet, but they dry out again, often with the benefit of smelling nicer.

I fear you’ll struggle to make me give up a habit of a lifetime. But I have a question for you, in return. “Streaming” – you mean to tell me you’ll go to the potentially electrocuting effort of dragging a laptop into your bathroom, rather than simply recline with a paperback?

Yours clean and well-read,

Alice

From: Stephen Carlick
To: Alice Vincent

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Rub-a-dub-dub

Alice,

Honestly, holding any item I care even a lick for over water – a Kindle, a book... frankly, anything made of paper – would make my bath feel more like a high-wire act than a moment of relaxation. 

To give you your due: reading in the bath sounds, theoretically, lovely. Forty minutes of uninterrupted reading? A warm bath? Please, yes. But, “book towel” aside (book towel!!!!), where are you resting your book? Tubside? I'm trying to wrap my head around the logistics of keeping my book unsplashed, and I just can't see it.

It all sort of reminds me of breakfast in bed, an endeavour that sounds like a heavenly, relaxed meal but in reality means uncomfortable manoeuvring to save the sheets from egg and, inevitably, a bed full of crumbs.

More reality: my laptop is within arm’s reach but a good two feet from the tub, on a stool, and only requires me to touch it every half an hour or so, so it seems less dangerous than constantly flicking through delicate pages with my soapy mitts. 

If they start making literary classics in puffy, plastic editions, I'll happily drag them into the bath with me. But until then, I'm afraid we'll just have to differ here; I’ll keep wrapping up my ablutions before happily curling up into bed with a couple of paper pals.

Warm and drily yours,

Stephen

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