Bookstores: the natural laxative?
June 6, 2005 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Why do bookstores and libraries make me poop?

At first I thought this was some sort of kindred-based phenomena; all the men in my family experienced similar reactions when visiting bookstores and libraries. Over time I've found that many of my aquaintinences also experience this same thing. Is this just a case of conditioning, or could there be some sort of chemical floating through the air that triggers excretion? How wide spread is this phenomena?
posted by nitsuj to Science & Nature (57 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my ever living's not just me!
posted by Constant Reader at 7:32 AM on June 6, 2005

Do you read on the toilet? It could be that you just associate books with pooping.

Or maybe it's all that paper...
posted by bondcliff at 7:35 AM on June 6, 2005

its cause you read on the toilet.
I know. I have the same experience.
posted by stevejensen at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2005

HA HA! Used bookstores are the worst - within 5 minutes I'm searching for the john. Maybe there's a subconscious relaxation that affects the sphincter, who knows?
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:38 AM on June 6, 2005

I imagine the coffee doesn't hurt either.
posted by electroboy at 7:40 AM on June 6, 2005

Holy jeez. This happens to me too. It can't be simple conditioning, can it? I just never thought it was anything more than the fact that I usually go right after lunch.
posted by bDiddy at 7:42 AM on June 6, 2005

This is a known old book effect and I swear it was asked here before but I'll be damned if I can find it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:43 AM on June 6, 2005

Is this for real? Honestly?
posted by sourwookie at 7:45 AM on June 6, 2005

Pressed Rat is closer than he might think!

Do you look at books on the bottom shelves? If you squat to look at books on lower shelves, you straighten out your rectum, which is why squatting is recommended by some to reduce hemorrhoid flare-ups by reducing the need to push. It's not far from "reducing the need to push" to feeling an urge that would've come on its own a couple of hours later.

(I have a sensitive GI tract and have had this sensation while looking at cards on the bottom shelves in a card store before.)
posted by mendel at 7:45 AM on June 6, 2005

I have seen this effect mentioned elsewhere.
posted by jessamyn at 7:52 AM on June 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've always wondered if this sort of thing has something to do with knowing that you can't do it. For example, if someone says "Don't scratch your nose!" you often start to feel itchy. In a bookstore or library, it's often very inconvenient to use the restroom. When you're deep in the stacks, a bathroom break might mean gathering all your stuff (or risk having it stolen if you leave it unattended), dropping your train of thought, making your way to the outer perimeter--and possibly to the stairway or elevator--and finally finding a restroom. At my local bookstore, the restroom is up two flights of stairs and all the way to the back.
posted by handful of rain at 8:00 AM on June 6, 2005

Bookstores, not so much, but there is something so peaceful about a good library bathroom (unless it's filled with homeless guys washing up at the sinks) that makes it particularly alluring.
posted by OmieWise at 8:23 AM on June 6, 2005

It's also mentioned here. I've never heard of this before, but poking around a bit, it seems many folks with this problem have the same thing happen in second-hand shops. And I doubt they're looking at discarded paint-by-numbers in the john.

My guess is something physiological--mold or dust of some kind.
posted by frykitty at 8:24 AM on June 6, 2005

It happens to all my sisters and me, as well, in my case not just at a bookstore, at ANY store with lots of things I want, i.e. Target, the CD store, Home Despot. I assume it has to do with some kind of anxiety I get from all those material goods and limited cash to spend. Two of my sisters report that it only happens in bookstores, and think it has something to do with the dust and paper. I work for a box/paper company and we've got loads of dust and paper, but I get no response from below when I walk into the warehouse.
It keeps me regular, as long as I'm still tempted by consumer items. I just hate having to hover over the seat.
posted by pomegranate at 8:27 AM on June 6, 2005

Books have a certain smell, and whenever I sense it, I feel the urge to purge. Bookstores (used or new), libraries, even garage sales with a book table!
posted by bjork24 at 8:29 AM on June 6, 2005

I don't poop much when I'm camping, but the minute I get home, there's usually a Massive BM. I also took an aptitude test in HS and was told I should be a packaging designer. I'm sure there's a connection, however tortured, between my thwarted destiny, subconscious relaxation, and paper related bowel purging. Oh, and I have to pee/poop the second I walk into the campus library, so regularly that I just plan on it.

It's amazing how much time we spend eating and pooping every day. I wish someone made a Clif Bar that would last for a week [they do, but it weighs 15 lbs.]
posted by mecran01 at 8:47 AM on June 6, 2005

jessamyn might be referring to "why do restaurant make me crap my pants?" I'm not sure if it comes up in there, but I associate it because I always used to go to Chapters immediately after eating at Pizza Hut!
posted by Chuckles at 9:02 AM on June 6, 2005

Yes, I agree with pomegranate -- I always attributed this to the sheer bliss of being in a roomful of exciting stuff. Libraries especially, because there I can get anything I want, but bookstores and other stores as well. Something about the rush of seeing all that GREAT STUFF seems to make a person wanna unload . . . .
posted by JanetLand at 9:03 AM on June 6, 2005

Oh, another thing -- when I worked in a library, which I didn't enjoy at all, this never happened. Ditto when I worked in bookstore.
posted by JanetLand at 9:09 AM on June 6, 2005

I can't believe it. ... Actually, I can. I have the same reaction with movies and needing to pee.
posted by Tuwa at 9:09 AM on June 6, 2005

Wow. I had no idea this was a relatively common thing! My hunch is that it's conditioning, and not physiological.
posted by Specklet at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2005

This is quite possibly the weirdest AskMe thread ever. And I have no idea what you people are talking about.
posted by keswick at 9:18 AM on June 6, 2005

Ever since I was young, there were certain things that always set me off. I'll admit: Bookstores is definitely one of them. It's not the squatting, it's the smell, the experience. I can walk through the door, and, depending on my regularity recently, will have to immediately ask the proprietor for the nearest bathroom.

This can also happen to me in record shops, but less so since vinyl has gone out of vogue.

Maps, and imagining the places that the maps describe, also does it to me.

Perhaps I need to see someone about this...
posted by thanotopsis at 9:23 AM on June 6, 2005

Some folks I once knew referred to this as your "poop prompt", and they theorized that everybody had one. For one, it was cooking a big breakfast. For others it might be the Mall, or a bookstore.

I wonder if it has anything to do with stress, which can definitely produce a bowel movment. Perhaps things like coordinating a good-sized breakfast and walking into a store filled with tons of interesting and exciting things produce a similar amount of differing types of stress. Not enough to bother you terribly, but enough to make your colon spasm a bit.
posted by FortyT-wo at 9:27 AM on June 6, 2005

This finally explains to me why people are always looking for the bathroom at work. I just thought we had a ton of bathroom moochers.
posted by drezdn at 9:38 AM on June 6, 2005

Someone needs to take this thread to Borders with a proposal for active marketing in their stalls. They could make a damned fortune.

BTW - I do it too, I just never made the connection. Now I'll be overthinking my sojourns in bookstores. Thanks.
posted by jmgorman at 9:39 AM on June 6, 2005

This is quite possibly the weirdest AskMe thread ever. And I have no idea what you people are talking about.

I have to agree with keswick on this one! freaks. :)
I love bookstores and spend most days in a library, btw
posted by mdn at 9:54 AM on June 6, 2005

Is this true of illiterates and pre-literates?
posted by orthogonality at 9:54 AM on June 6, 2005

I'd just like to chime in and say that this happens to me. It's happened ever since I was a kid, and I do read on the toilet.
posted by splatta at 10:35 AM on June 6, 2005

OMG this happens to me to. Specifically, whenever i hit a certain used CD store in boston. I know i'll be spending a good hour in there, and i ALWAYS have to go.

The irony is, the store is called NUGGETS.
posted by quibx at 11:24 AM on June 6, 2005 [5 favorites]

I'm not a toilet reader (I'm more of an in and out kind of gal, I hate to linger on the pot) but I definitely do feel the urge to purge in bookstores and libraries. I always attributed it to the in-store starbucks and requisite mocha frappuccino, but sometimes it happens when I don't drink coffee too. I wonder if the smell of books has something to do with it - the new downtown Seattle library has never induced my bowels, but it doesn't smell like books nearly as much as older buildings. *Shrug*

Mecran01 - I went camping this weekend for the first time in a long time, and it kind of freaked me out that I didn't poop the whole weekend. Glad I'm not the only one this happens to!
posted by salad spork at 11:24 AM on June 6, 2005

Combined wisdom of me and my esteemed friend: It all goes back to the anal phase, where one of the first pleasures you encounter is the ability to either retain or expel shit at will. It's an important when your only way of communicating is either crying or shitting your pants.

So... most of us go to used bookstores or libraries because we generally enjoy reading a great deal... and, it's pleasurable... and all the old instincts start to kick in: bingo bango, sugar in the gas tank, you gotta crap.
posted by jon_kill at 11:28 AM on June 6, 2005

From Galway Kinnell's poem "Holy Shit":

For myself, it was many years before I could
get near the poetry section in a bookstore
or PS3521 in library stacks
without a sudden urge to shit,
I don't know why, unless envy, or emulation,
a need, like a coyote's or hyena's,
to set down my identity in scat.
posted by kortez at 12:06 PM on June 6, 2005 [8 favorites]

I had no idea.

I thought I was the only one.


I can walk into a library, stop by the bathroom and pee, not have to do anything else....thirty minutes later, nature calls, and she is VERY insistent.
posted by konolia at 12:26 PM on June 6, 2005

Libraries and bookstores, every damn time. It's ridiculous. Some of my favorite used book stores don't have public restrooms. They've lost some serious business that way...
posted by Space Kitty at 12:50 PM on June 6, 2005

I'm going with something close to jon kill....

Libraries (and bookstores that remind you of libraries), I'm wiling to bet, was one of the first excursions for your parents when you were wee ones (pee pun intended.)

Your mother would bring you to a library as you began being able to have your big boy (or big girl) pants. The opportunity to have a stranger read to you and your fellow preschool mates, giving them some moments of freedom in a relatively safe place, your local library.

It was all going on during your 'anal' phase for you freudians out there.

And your parent would ask before they'd leave (or before they could get some moments of solitude in the library), if you had to go potty. Plus they got the bonus of being able to find a place where you could not run around, you had to shush...and there were other younglings like yourself.

Smell is one of the strongest stimuli...and I think you can figure out the rest.

Comfort is a powerful trigger as well. As long as we're going to pushing out the revelations (again, another pun intended), I'll say I often have to drop trow when I get home, as it's comfortable and safe.
posted by filmgeek at 1:05 PM on June 6, 2005

OMFG. Honestly, I thought I was weird. I told my wife, and she looked at me like I'd grown a second head.

I don't read on the toilet; my parents never took me to bookstores for fun when I was young -- but 5 minutes in the used bookstore down the road, and the POWER OF BOWELS COMPELS ME.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 1:16 PM on June 6, 2005

Wow. This has never, ever happened to me and I spent most of my childhood in libraries while my mother was teaching or studying for her masters. Perhaps over-familiarity has hardened my bowels?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:47 PM on June 6, 2005

I don't have the library/poop connection, but I can definitely relate. Every time I walk into the mall I get this insane booty crack itch, which is very unfortunate considering that the mall bathroom is about a half step above a gas station bathroom.
posted by crapulent at 2:03 PM on June 6, 2005

wow ... this doesn't happen to me at bookstores and libraries ... and i visit them at least once a week ...
posted by pyramid termite at 2:04 PM on June 6, 2005

Not libraries and bookstores for me (thank goodness, because I work at a library!) but when someone calls - usually a family member who I know I'm going to have a long conversation with. What is up with that?
posted by Lynsey at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2005

I smell a CSI episode here. ;-P
posted by mischief at 4:55 PM on June 6, 2005

Libraries no, bookstores yes. Especially the old Wordsworth bookstore in Harvard Square in Cambridge. That place had a realy distinct smell to it and I always thought that had something to do with it.

I had no idea this happened to other people.

Thanks again, Metafilter.
posted by evoo at 5:02 PM on June 6, 2005

This is fascinating.

I wondered at first about what thanotopsis later said-- Do you bookstore poopers experience anything similar in used record stores, but not new (read: plastic-wrapped CD) record stores? And does it not happen in other types of stores? What about comic book shops? Libraries in particular, and used bookstores more than new ones, do have a distinctive scent, which includes paper, paste, dust and some mold. I don't think that it's a purely psychological effect if so many people are reporting it being specific to libraries and bookstores.

So, again, for the purposes of science:
--Is there a difference in experience between places with old books and only new product? Or old vs. new buildings?
--Are there similar experiences in places with a similar papery dust smell, as in used record stores?
--Are there any regular corresponding experiences with any other type of place, like clothing stores or classrooms?
posted by obloquy at 6:41 PM on June 6, 2005

And here I thought I was the only one... I can only stand about 15 minutes in the Coop in Harvard Square, otherwise, I'll be waiting in line for their horrible bathroom. I also have a problem with knowing I have a long subway ride ahead of me, it just triggers the pee response. By now I know many of the public restrooms in the Boston area, and even have them ranked.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 7:33 PM on June 6, 2005

I can't take you kids anywhere, can I? You'd better not mke me stop this car...
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:42 PM on June 6, 2005

There's a master's thesis here somewhere.

This has never happened to me. No wonder people look at you funny when this comes up. I had no idea. and I live in a house full of books. Books on shelves. Books on the floor. Books on tables. Books on chairs. Lots of books. Maybe that's made me immune.

Maybe set up a card table outside the toilets at some university library?

"Uh, excuse me, could you help me out with a survey I'm doing?"

"Sorry. Not right now. I've gotta go."
posted by warbaby at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2005

I was at a Borders about an hour ago buying a gift for someone and within five minutes of walking in, I needed to use the bathroom. No cafe, no large breakfast, no squatting (I'm a zillion months pregnant and would never make it back up), nothing to indicate it's a physical thing at all. And the bookstore doesn't have a bathroom. And now that I think of it, libraries do it to me, too.
posted by tracicle at 8:58 PM on June 6, 2005

Libraries. Book stores. Record stores. And, fuck-it-all, FABRIC STORES.

Shit. The thread that connects us all.
posted by DawnSimulator at 9:25 PM on June 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Wow, I really thought it was just me. Actually for me it's just having to pee, but it really is any place with a lot of selection. Bookstores, libraries, video stores, record stores.

I am in awe.
posted by mayfly wake at 9:38 PM on June 6, 2005

Physiological, I'm sure, based upon what people have written. Wonder what it is? Doesn't happen to me, though.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:58 PM on June 6, 2005

For me, I think it is all the eye exercise. These kinds of movements (move, move, zoom in, zoom out, repeat) are very relaxing and tend to loosen my neck and back, which leads to the bathroom.
posted by SpookyFish at 10:21 PM on June 6, 2005

You know, now that I think of it, I do manage to get a need for a No. 2 at bookstores -- I used to hang out at the local B&N and Borders all the time, though, so I just figured it was a function of random need cropping up. Maybe there is something.

My main childhood bathroom memories are of Marshall Field's in Chicago and sometimes having to go in back at the local A&P (past the butcher, through the insulated doors, where it was air conditioned ...). I don't get the need much in either Field's or grocery stores, though.

I have definitely noticed a very annoying version of this, though. In my present living circumstances much of my possessions are boxed up in storage in a building without running water. Every damn time I go over there for more than 15 minutes I find myself needing to pee. Having noticed it, in a way it doesn't matter if I make a precautionary prep pee; I still get the pee feeling and it grows until it's unbearable. I leave, and it goes away.

I always thought this was basically a psychological way of getting out of a depressing situation.
posted by dhartung at 10:43 PM on June 6, 2005

Never experienced it myself, but if reading on the toilet has something to do with it, I'm kind of interested in seeing this discussion 30 years from now, talking about the effect while using laptop computers :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:57 PM on June 6, 2005

Maybe it's all this Tomato Feta Soup
posted by growabrain at 1:10 AM on June 7, 2005

It's office supply stores for me.

Maybe we should patent this as a cure for constipation? lol
posted by IndigoRain at 8:49 PM on June 8, 2005

Maybe it's the change in air temperature--those places are freezing.
posted by craniac at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2005

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