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poo, books and anal character

Ever notice that whenever you walk into a library or bookstore, you suddenly have the urge to shit? I always thought it was just me, but then I read an interview in the zine Office Supply Junkie with a woman who collects office supplies, and she brought it up.

Jeaneen: Buying a lot of office supplies kind of ties in with like, if you go to the library or sometimes a bookstore and you have to go to the bathroom. Tim and I have always talked about it, some of our friends have mentioned it too. Whenever they go into a place where things are organized and collected, especially a library, they have to go bad.
OSJ: Often the same thing happens when I go to a thrift shop. And it's not a feeling like "I have to find a bathroom soon." It comes on real fast.
Jeaneen: Oh, yeah! Yeah!
OSJ: I used to think it had something to do with the fluorescent lights, that the electromagnetic field was affecting my bowels. But it may be tied to this urge for buying filing supplies, or books, and being in this environment of organization, of anality.

That sent me to the library to search through the works of Sigmund Freud. After a quick bathroom break, I found this passage in Civilization and Its Discontents:

"The most remarkable of these character traits in an individual is found in the anal eroticism of young human beings. Their original interest in the excretory function, its organs and products, is changed in the course of their growth into a group of traits which are familiar to us as parsimony, a sense of order and cleanliness — qualities which, though valuable and welcome in themselves, may be intensified till they become markedly dominant and produce what is called an anal character."

Intrigued, I asked some librarian friends about their bowel movements. "Libraries and bathrooms have always been a fascination of mine," admitted Billie Aul of the New York State Library. "My study of this problem has led me to think that it hasn't got anything to do with how anal libraries are. Rather it has to do with standing up for a long time looking at things that are just above your eye level. It probably only works with people who like books, as I think relaxation has something to do with it.
"This phenomenon has important implications for bookstores," she added. "Borders opened one of their stores here. I've tried to support smaller local bookstores, but I always find myself at Borders. Why? I think it's the bathroom. If the other stores would open their bathrooms to the public, I'm sure much of their business would return."
Next in line was Jan DeSirey of the Hennepin County Library near Minneapolis. "For me it has to do more with guilt or anxiety," she says. "I get anxious in bookstores. And the library I use most frequently is the one upstairs from Technical Services, where I work. I always feel rushed and guilty up there, no matter what I'm doing. Would therapy help? Deep breathing?"
Jan pointed me to an article from the September 1994 issue of Esquire in which Jerry Seinfeld reveals that he too has to poo whenever he's faced with shelves of books. The writer of the article describes going into a bookstore in Los Angeles with Seinfeld, "despite Jerry's lifelong knowledge that bookstores affect his intestines as would any laxative. 'I think it's the quiet. It creates some sort of rectal anxiety, if you'll pardon the expression.' "
Finally, I contacted Nancy Bonnell-Kangas of the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio and creator of Nancy's Magazine. She suggested I start a zine, "Public Pooping: Libraries, Bookstores, Bodily Functions, Different Peoples' Experiences, and Possible Explanations." Don't tempt me.


visitor feedback

From Johnny Vaselino, Boston:
I enjoyed having some sort of explanation as to why I spend so much time in the bathroom whenever I visit my parents.

From Dave Schiff, Los Angeles:
I recently entered a Barnes & Noble with our mutual friend Ted. I immediately felt a bit off, and we ran much of the way back to his apartment to keep me out of doody-pants. I blame this sudden urge on the bookstore, not Ted. He usually makes me want to vomit.

From Vicky Morris:
When you go to the library and need to rush to the toilet, it's because of the smell. I have the same problem which made me look into it further.

Posted at MightyBigTV.com:
My sister and friend and I all have a funny problem: Libraries and large book stores always make us have to poo! It's like magic, I walk in and boom, where's the john? Is it a rare book allergy? Can't explain it.

From tikifish:
I read somewhere that it was tiny bookworms that live in books cause the reaction to have to poop when you are in a library or bookstore. I'm not pulling your leg!

From Jackie Callan:
Since I was about 10 years old I've wondered why libraries and large book stores always made me have to poop. Oddly enough, smaller bookstores don't do this to me. It has to be someplace like Borders or B&N. Somebody should do scientific research on this.

From Rod:
And conversely, when I go into the bathroom to poop, I want something to read.


This article first appeared in my fanzine, Chip's Closet Cleaner, Issue 13.

See also: Librarian Porn, Bathroom History

Links: Poo Science (article), Everyone Poops (kids' book)
The Gas We Pass (kids' book), The Aesthetics of Waste (book)
Inner Hygiene (book)

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