Places Not for Reading
Hypothetical Print-Hostile Environments

Contra-Memoir by
Robert Wilfred Franson


October 2010

Reading despite circumstances — hypothetically

We are frequently exhorted to read more. We members of the Bookish Institute for Compulsive Reading embrace this campaign wholeheartedly, and in all modesty we must agree that our lifelong goals include reading more, faster, and better than we have managed so far.

In a spirit of dissembling contrariety, however, we must acknowledge that there are rare times and places which, if not altogether anti-print, surely are print-inappropriate and even print-hostile. We will take our ideally fictional member, Mr. Bookish, as our exemplar. The obscure, and in parts deliberately obscured, contra-memoir of Mr. Bookish is surfeit with reading on sunny days and rainy, but there are a few quirks not generally known even to our membership.

Follow along as we retrace some downright implausible and almost certainly counterfactual events — even, apparently, classes of events — in the course of Mr. Bookish's lifetime of reading. We start from the more common hypothetical situations and move toward rarer or outre circumstances. Remember that these scenarios all are hypothetical or conjectural or downright imaginary.

Motel-room reading

When one is quite young, but just old enough to bring one's own reading material on a road trip, a child such as the bright-eyed young Bookish might bring a new comic book along to read in the motel room after dinner. Say, for instance, not a great favorite like the Disney Ducks, but an adventure with Mickey Mouse and Goofy which involves them being trapped in a giant air bubble on the bottom of the sea. An arresting and memorable idea.

At bedtime, stashing a comic under a motel-room pillow generally is a bad idea. Motels and hotels are always dangerous possession-sinks, wherein articles of clothing and other favorite objects may be forgotten or overlooked, never to be seen again. Almost always the return-and-retrieve threshold is too high, and thus items even with known last-seen locations are lost forever.

Mr. Bookish acquired a permanent caution, perhaps not shading into paranoia, about the dangerous intersection of forgetfulness and brief stays away from home. Mr. Bookish's contra-memoir refers again a few times to this story, but he didn't come across another copy until well into adulthood. So we may reasonably surmise that the left-behind comic book never was seen again by its young owner.

Bathtub reading

Sometime later in his teenage years, young Bookish learned to enjoy reading in the bathtub. This is not uncommon among Bookish Institute habitues and even among the general literate populace, so we may take Mr. Bookish at his word here. The warm, relaxing, almost floating feeling in the bath lends itself very comfortably to reading. Printliness may be combined with cleanliness.

Of course young Bookish realized straightaway that extra care must be applied when taking books into the bath. A splash, a careless dip of the hand, even drowsing momentarily, can dampen or even fatally dunk a book. Only a paperback, and a common or low-value one at that, should be risked above the deceptively gentle bath waters.

The Bookish contra-memoir alludes guardedly to an occasion or two when he deliberately dunked a paperback that he had given up on reading, even decisively ceased to want to maintain in the reading air. We may take such allusions as fanciful, likely expressions of pique at a disappointing plot development.

Shower reading

Later in the contra-memoir we must deal with a scattering of conjectural incidents which frankly we might not give credence to if it were not for the hint in the previous section, above. That is, while Mr. Bookish yields to no one outside a museum library in his affectionate care for good books, we must recognize his apparent physical abhorrence of truly bad books. He simply shuns their presence, and since he is sentient and they are merely print, he expels them from his presence.

Sometimes, oddly, Mr. Bookish already has decided to discard a book, but yet is willing to while away some otherwise idle minutes reading further in it. We must hypothesize a book which he does not rate as salable, or gift-able, or even worth abandoning to some subsequent victim. So now and then, as if to reaffirm an already firm decision, Mr Bookish seems to have taken one of these doomed books into the shower with him. This may have been before he had a waterproof radio in the shower. These books, naturally, are not waterproof, and do not do well in the wet and steamy environment. Mr. Bookish, at this point, clearly does not care. There may even be some psychological cleansing effect at work, but in front of such suppositions we must discreetly draw the shower curtain.

Desert-canyon summertime reading

This next entry seems to have been a mistake, rather than a Bookish quirk. Yet a real title is provided, so it feels more believable. A. J. Barker's The Neglected War: Mesopotamia 1914-1918 is a fine history of war in a desert theater, with fighting for Baghdad and Basra, centered on the Siege of Kut in World War I.

Because of an indisposition, Mr. Bookish had planned to do rather more reading on this excursion than hiking with his friends. After arriving at their destination in an isolated desert canyon, Mr. Bookish took out The Neglected War while the others were active. The summertime desert heat was sufficient for hiking and even to discourage casual sightseers, perhaps 110 Fahrenheit in the shade.

Even keeping his book prudently in shade, it was apparent by the end of the day that the book had suffered from the hot and dry air. The volume is a British hardcover, published in 1967. The pages of good-quality paper were fine, but its binding had split along both hinges, not from sunlight but simply from the very dry and heated air.

Mr. Bookish long had been aware that in the British Empire and Commonwealth there had grown up a minor science of book preservation in tropical countries, so that for instance, a civil servant heading out to British India could avoid dismay on his new station from his books' deterioration or ruin. Given his knowledge of desert conditions, Mr. Bookish should have known better. At any rate he gained an appreciation for the harshness of hot desert air on bound books.

Freeway reading

This hypothetical entry in the contra-memoir frankly is a little wilder. We've all seen automobile drivers also glancing at a newspaper, or more recently reading snippets of text on a cell phone. At least with these notably dangerous distractions, the reading tends to be in quite short snatches, with most of the driver's attention properly reserved for the road and traffic.

To make Mr. Bookish's fancifully-conjectured reading more easily imaginable, we must again go along with some real details that feature in this scenario; as in the above section, a real title is provided.

In this instance, apparently Mr. Bookish is leaving Los Angeles by auto, driving south on the freeways to San Diego. Now visualize that our Mr. Bookish stops in a bookstore near the beginning of his trip, spots a book he hasn't seen before and buys it. He gives a real title here, Ann Maxwell's science-fiction novel Name of a Shadow (1980). This is a vivid story with a gripping plot, which lends some verisimilitude to this doubtful entry.

Now Mr. Bookish is on his way again, on surface streets heading back to the freeway. Perhaps it is a reasonable next step, that while waiting at a long traffic light the driver picks up the book, and before the light turns green Mr. Bookish reads the first page or so. We may well believe that our Mr. Bookish is impressed and intrigued, because (in reality) Name of a Shadow is quite a novel. At the next stoplight Mr. Bookish apparently manages to read another page or two.

Now our hypothetical scenario becomes a little far-fetched, because — we might have seen this coming — as soon as Mr. Bookish reaches a fairly straight and less-crowded stretch of freeway, he returns to reading. In fact, to push both the pedal to the metal and the reader to the mettle, we must take him at his word that he continues to read the book all the way down the freeway until reaching San Diego. Or we may just shake our heads.


Well, there's Mr. Bookish's imagination at work, playing at a sort of a contra-memoir of events, most of which clearly didn't happen, nor would be admitted to if they had. Our Bookish Institute legal team reminds us to state that such obviously counterfactual non-happenings should not be imitated in reality. Don't attempt these yourself at home, or on the road, or anywhere else.

And if it makes us feel better, we should assume or postulate that no actual books were harmed during the visualization and relation of these hypothetical scenarios.

And so, Mr. Bookish turns a page.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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