Here is a gift that I know you will cherish: my favorite novel. I have spent many happy hours laughing and crying with the characters in its pages as I’ve sat on my toilet.
The ideal reading experience is on paper, not a screen, because books are tactile. You can tell that this tome has been loved, and now I want to pass it along to you so that you can love it too. The evidence of its having been well-enjoyed is everywhere: Its binding is worn at the edges. Its pages are dog-eared. It has a certain scent.
May this narrative move you as it has moved me. Today, pressing the paperback into your bare hand, I can still feel how, reading it on a long-ago winter night as my thighs spilled over a cold plastic seat, its vivid images and crackling dialogue warmed me more than the steam-heat radiator a few feet away from my reading spot.
Over the years, so much has changed in my life—but the drama, adventure, romance, and humor between this book’s covers have been a constant presence. Of course, as I’ve grown, my understanding of what it means has evolved. Physically, it’s the same book; but as my perspective shifts, I see its words with new eyes. I took different lessons from it when I was potty training in my boyhood home than when I was dealt a bout of food poisoning in my first apartment in the city; its significance struck me one way in the Port-a-John at that sweltering music festival in my 20s, and another at the Michelin-starred restaurant where I was about to propose to Laura. Then a third way a few minutes later, after I’d proposed to Laura. I’ll never forget that evening; the restroom attendant asked: “Hey, what are you reading?”
I won’t mislead you. The truth is that I didn’t only read this very special book in the bathroom. Sometimes I left it sitting behind me on the tank lid while I scrolled on my phone. But that was a mistake; checking social media is the intellectual equivalent of empty calories. It’s a more nourishing choice to leaf through a real book on the commode.
A great book can take you to a whole other world. Reading this one, I’ve felt like I was on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic toward Europe, rather than in the bathroom. My mind was sure that I was in Central Park as the protagonist pleaded with his fiancé to stay by his side, but my body was in the bathroom. I was immersed in a rich vision of a futuristic civilization at the far reaches of our galaxy, spiritually speaking, even as, in a corporeal sense, I was planted on an American Standard–brand porcelain fixture in the bathroom.
Now it’s time for your own journey with this treasured volume. I hope that you turn to it regularly in moments of quiet contemplation—and that, in the face of strain, its well-formed characters give you the push to rid yourself of the things you don’t need and leave you feeling lighter to conquer the obstacles that await you outside of the bathroom.
Jonathan Zeller is a writer, editor and comedian who’s contributed to McSweeney’s, The New York Times, and Teen Vogue.