I enjoy going for long rides on my road bike. I have a heart rate monitor and a little bike computer, and a training program that I stick to fairly religiously. Periodically I measure my fitness to see what kind of progress, if any, I’m making (“fitness,” at this age, being simply a slowing of natural decline.)
One of the major indicators of cardiovascular fitness is known as VO2 max. This is a measure of how much oxygen one’s body can absorb and utilize during exercise. To get a true and precise reading, you’d have to go to a sports lab. But there are a lot of DIY ways of approximating a measurement of VO2 max. One of them, the “Rockport Walking Test,” involves timing yourself while walking for a mile as hard as you can, and measuring your heart rate at the end. Then you plug the data into a complicated equation and… blah, blah, blah.
Point is, I took a hard 1 mile walk yesterday morning, and boy, can I feel it! I might go 75 miles on my bike with no problem but walking that single mile hurt. I’m fit as a fiddle but, for all the exercising I do, I’m only using one set of muscles.
This got me thinking about my struggles to survive in the book trade, primarily because survival has required continuous change and adaptation. I came in before the computer, when Evans items and their collectors abounded in New England, when estate lawyers called in booksellers rather than auctioneers. I came in when booksellers sold BOOKS and only books.
And every time I get it figured out, it changes.
First I had to learn what good books were, and how to go out and find them. Then I had to learn what ephemera was, and what was up with photographs and maps and all those other kinds of paper. Bookfairs got popular, and the market expanded beyond my hometown. Catalogs printed on mimeo machines. Postcard quotes. Somewhere in there, computers took over and the little business I operated out of the old fish market down by Beacon Marine became global.
Interloc seemed like a miracle. I plugged the computer thingie into the phone thingie and it made these funny noises, then after a while, the Interloc home screen appeared, in all its DOS glory. That first time on Interloc, I bought a book simply because I could.
It may sound funny to you, but that was not the first, nor will it be the last instance of this sort of behavior. I’ll often buy a “book” (in the broadest sense) simply because it interests me, and I’ve never seen its like before. I used to regard this as a self-indulgent habit, but now I’m starting to see that exploratory book buying is like bike riding and walking. I’m limiting myself if I only use one set of muscles. And the same is true for book buying.
I’m supposed to be a specialist, but I can’t afford to be a specialist in the grand old sense of specializing in books (only books) about one subject area (and only one). I don’t have deep financial resources and my bookman chops, while adequate, are not of Reeseian grandeur, so I have to be an opportunist, buying in fields outside my specialty.
Tomorrow, for example, I’m driving several hours to look at what has been described to me as a collection of vintage San Francisco earthquake photographs. I’m hoping this lot will enhance an earlier lot, purchased on a whim, about which I know very litte… but I’m learning!
It’s always a gamble, because I’m going on instinct alone, but these days, every time I buy an out-of-field item, I feel I’m training my instinct. Honing it, if you will.
This time, when I get back home, I think I’ll start working on my speed-walking technique as well.