Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, created in 1987 by Ashland resident John Javna, closed its doors Friday but will continue to be published by a major publishing corporation in San Diego.
The wildly popular compilation of trivia is published annually by Portable Press and has sold more than 14 million copies, providing jobs for many freelance contributors and placing it in a class with Guinness World Records and “Believe It Or Not” for the genre.
The operation was taken over by Javna's brother, Gordon, who resigned in April to help care for their elderly parents, says Gordon, who moved to Ashland in 2000. The book was sold to Advanced Marketing Services, which went bankrupt in 2007, leading to other owners.
The closing of the office wipes out Gordon Javna's job and three others in Ashland. The parent firm informed Javna that, if he weren’t in charge, it would assemble the book in California, he says. Some of those writers will continue to get work from the corporation, he says.
“John created it in ’87 based on the tradition that the whole family read a lot in the bathroom, and so did the whole world,” says Gordon. “I cracked up when I heard the idea from him, but it made a lot of sense. It became very popular all over the world, but an ironic thing was that Medford Costco was the best-selling outlet of any.”
The Javnas write and publish 10 titles a year, Gordon says. They are planning the book “Bathroom Science,” which poses such entertaining questions as, “Do geese get goose bumps?” Another, “Strange History,” soon to be published, presents “odd bits of history.”
Amazon is full of titles by Gordon and/or John Javna, including the latter’s “Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth,” “Prime Time Proverbs: the Book of TV Quotes” and “60s! A Catalog of Memories & Artifacts.”
"Uncle John's Bathroom Reader" informs readers of famous last words, live TV bloopers, personal habits of Hitler, people who got famous for 15 minutes and why their fame didn’t last, and why the number 13 is thought to be unlucky. Many of the chapters are educational, some demolish myths, but all give the reader a little smile.
The success of "Uncle John’s" and many of the other books, says Gordon, is that they’re “interesting, unusual nonfiction. They don’t change the world, but they change your perspective. We were way ahead of the curve in telling stories briefly, and now that’s all you see on the Internet. They can read it for a few minutes, then close the book and know they learned something they didn’t know.
“We had a great run here with Uncle John and its spinoffs … and now we have a lot more irons in the fire. My brother and I have some major New York publishers lined up.”
Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at email@example.com.