Flushing the Page

For this week’s blog post I was not really sure what to do. During my research I came across two instances of books on toilet paper: the first was intended as a joke, the second a purposeful publication.

Usually, when we think of a book and its pages we associate it with a permanent, solidified existence and the digital realm as ephemeral. According to Stoicheff and Taylor, digital texts are viewed for their flexibility, ease of use, and dissemination around the globe for commentary (2004, p. 4). On the other hand, physical pages carry authority because of its long history in academic and intellectual pursuits. Our understanding of the page is rooted in its history (ibid, p. 8).

What I find interesting about the toilet paper novels is that they symbolize the impermanence of text. They are not meant to last, they are single use only. The first book on toilet paper that I came across was Moby Dick. The novel was typed out on toilet paper and transformed the book from a codex back to a scroll.

Toilet paper book
© Melville House

By doing so, the toilet paper book no longer facilitated discontinuous or selective reading, but changed it to continuous. The pages could no longer be viewed as an individuation according to Piper’s definition; it became a scroll where only the recto side could be seen. Consequently, Piper’s view of the page as a mirror is also changed with the toilet paper as we cannot read the pages in opposition of each other (2012, p. 52).

Piper also discusses how we read pages: we use actions such as roaming, zooming, and streaming (p. 55-58). However, with a toilet paper novel the actions of zooming and streaming are not possible. We cannot zoom the text of the toilet paper novel as it is very much tied to the materiality of the paper it is printed on. On the other hand, streaming talks of the ephemerality of the page because once a piece is used it is discarded and the information on it is gone. So too is the page of the toilet paper novel: once it has been used, it is no longer there, you cannot revisit it.

The difference between the Moby Dick novel and the Japanese novel is the way the information is laid out on the paper. The horror novel relies on Japanese folklore and superstitions as the basis for being published on toilet paper.

toiletpaper book
©Koji Suzuki

The Japanese novel is laid out to emulate the page in how it incorporates white space, possibly due to the vertical writing of the Japanese language as opposed to the horizontal writing of English. However, it does play with the permanence of published material. It defies the logic of the preservation of the page and instead focuses on what Piper describes as writing as a stream (2012, p. 58). Either way, it is not the type of thing one thinks about when you say book, page, or novel.


Piper, Andrew. “Turning the Page (Roaming, Zooming, Streaming).” InBook Was There: Reading in Electronic Times, 45-61. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Robins, Ellie. (2012). Moby Dick Toilet Paper. Melville House. Retrieved from http://www.mhpbooks.com/done-moby-dick-toilet-paper/

Ryall, Julian. (2009). Japanese publisher prints horror novel on toilet roll. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/5381234/Japanese-publisher-prints-horror-novel-on-toilet-roll.html

Stoicheff, Peter, and Andrew Taylor. Introduction to The Future of the Page, 3-25. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

2 thoughts on “Flushing the Page”

  1. These are really fascinating examples.

    I would love to get my hands on Suzuki’s roll! I went to find the website for it and it’s really fascinating. The product description is:
    100% Recycled Toilet Paper
    Each sheet 4.48″ * 11.81″
    Sheets 100 sheets per roll, 2ply
    Total Area 5290 sq.in.

    It doesn’t give any information about the actual story. I think that this is clearly not a “future of publishing” but it is cool.

    I like what you say about books not being considered ephemeral, whereas a lot of reading material is quite ephemeral. I immediately thought of the short story vending machine in Grenoble, France, which dispenses stories for commuters: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/13/short-story-vending-machines-press-french-commuters-buttons

  2. Hi Jelena,

    All I know about the story is that is it based on popular Japanese superstitions about a toilet ghost. It even has blood spatter on some of the pages to make it more gruesome. I would hope the future of the book is not in toilet paper! It brings up interesting ideas about how books are thought of in our society as something that needs to be kept in pristine condition or as part of a private collection.

    During the tour we had in the Fisher Library on Monday, we looked at some examples of serials that had some work by Dickens in them. The pages were all worn, faded, and looked on the verge of falling apart. The focus on preserving books, whether digitally or through archiving is really something unnatural if you look at some of the materials things are published on. The idea of the “throw away” novel or “mass market paperback” show the impermanence of thought that went into these things.

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