The Old Bookseller, or
How Can We Best Age in the Trade?

by Craig Stark

12 June 2013

Part I: Physical Fitness

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You can learn a lot about people if you go to estate sales, especially if you're a bookseller, because books in particular, observed in a group context, can reveal much about their owners. Also, in most cases, because estate sales typically function to liquidate estates of recently deceased people, you can learn even more about an owner's last few years. Almost none of us keep all the books we've ever acquired, even a fraction of them, so book collections encountered at sales are usually weighted heavily toward more recent acquisitions.

Also, if you go sales often, patterns emerge. Health-related books, for example, pop up almost everywhere, and why wouldn't they? Health issues abound for most in their later years, and doctors don't always have the answers to them, whether it's something potentially fatal or something non-life-threatening that significantly affects, say, how you get around. Like a bad back.

For some years now, on and off, my back has given me trouble, not a great thing for a bookseller. It was a few years ago when I announced this to my doctor. His response was, "Welcome to the club," though he did take x-rays to rule out anything obviously wrong, then asked me if I was doing anything about it. "One Aleve in the morning," I said, "and exercise." He nodded approval, and that was the last time I brought it up.

In the ensuing years I've tried a number of other things. Lose weight. Get more exercise. Take two Aleve on days when I play golf. All helped to some degree but there was still no final solution. Speaking of golf, many years ago I injured my back in an over-vigorous practice session, and I went to a chiropractor. Though I did get some relief that day, when presented with a gazillion-appointment treatment plan going forward, I never went back, and things were fine on their own in a few weeks. So, for me anyway, another trip to a chiropractor was out.

In much more recent years I've turned to - what else? - books for answers. I like to think I'm pretty skeptical about so-called miracle cures, so if I purchase a book about something that promises to relieve back pain, it's not without spending serious time investigating reviews, on Amazon and elsewhere, as best I can passing them through a filter that separates fake reviews from real - and I never ever give somebody a credit card number to pay for shipping a free sample of a supplement recommended by an author or whomever. More often than not, "free" means "You can cancel at any time, as stated clearly on our home page, but we're going to charge your card for a new supply of our miracle supplement every month and make your life miserable in the process if you try to stop us."

It seems to me that health-related books especially are susceptible to fads. Diet books in spades, of course, but also, I can say from personal experience, books about joint pain. The buzz these days is about inflammation-producing substances we put in our mouths, and how these substances wreak havoc in so many ways - arthritis, diabetes, obesity ... bad backs.

Within this trend there are several sub-trends, two of which pertain to two categories of food that are believed to cause inflammation - one, products containing gluten, and two, products produced from genetically altered grains, wheat being the most notorious, commencing sometime in the 1970's - and obviously there is much overlap here. Gluten is present in many grain products. High fructose corn syrup also comes up in this conversation, I should add. Anyway, if you read much in this niche, I think you'll be astonished at how often common ailments are associated with inflammation, even cancer.

But is this actually what's going on? Heck if I know. Certainly there have been no shortage of studies, and some of the evidence seems persuasive to me. One thing that seems solidly consistent, however, is the treatment recommendation - antioxidants. Since these can be acquired in foods and/or natural supplements, the advice seems safe enough, and again, if you're careful about investigating reviews, you can pretty much steer clear of the obvious quackery and choose products that, if they don't end up helping you much, won't hurt you either. If it's a product with a long track record, so much the better.

I'm spending time on this seemingly non-bookselling-related topic because in my own pursuit of answers I found one - specifically, something that has all but eliminated my back pain - and subsequently, having returned to normal, I discovered in a looking-back sort of way just how much a bad back had been affecting my performance as a bookseller. After all, bookselling is often about lifting and carrying somewhat-to-very-heavy things, and on occasions of large acquisitions it can become an athletic event, especially in competitive situations, these sometimes aggravated by having to park far away at a busy estate sale. Moreover, if you're selling books briskly, there is much additional lifting transporting them to the post office.

So, bookselling for most of us is a physically demanding trade, say nothing of the mental demands, which are huge, and this Part I article is a personal testimonial on what has helped me physically. I stress what has worked for me because on no account could I justify an assertion that any of it will work for you. At best perhaps this discussion will help some with a direction to look for their own answers, preferably with a doctor's participation, especially if you're taking medications that might interact with something.

Since joint pain for the no-longer-young seems close to universal, I'll start here. No question that bookselling can be at once a physically demanding and very sedentary occupation, and exercise does help my cause, helps it even more if losing weight happens along the way. I've settled on several joint-friendly regimes which I do more days than not, sometimes one of them, other times two and occasionally all three. One is walking, usually 3 or 4 miles, which burns several hundred calories. Another is a half hour session on an elliptical machine, which burns about 500 calories. And a third, my favorite, is 50 laps in my pool - another several hundred calories. All three of these activities work the entire body, back included, without unduly stressing joints or muscles and yet building muscles to support them. I need only stop exercising for a week or so to see some discomfort returning.

As for diet, supplements, etc., I've tried a bunch of stuff, and I won't bore you with the details, other than to say that perhaps the most recommended supplement for joint pain - some sort of combination of Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine Sulfate - absolutely does not work for me, though some do seem to be helped by it. What has worked magically is a product I was surprised to learn was the number one selling herbal supplement in the US and often recommended by doctors - Zyflamend, a combination of 10 natural herbs that have been shown to be powerful anti-oxidants. Until stumbling upon it on Amazon, I'd never heard of it. Within several days of starting to take it, I noticed a significant reduction in back pain; within a few weeks it was all but gone. A few other benefits for me included a complete elimination of any swelling in my hands and feet (something that had come up occasionally in recent years, especially after walking), a complete elimination of cramping (something I had experienced now and again in cool pool water) and a complete elimination of tingling in my legs (something that had occasionally came up after sitting long hours in front of a computer). I hesitate to use the word "miracle," but this supplement has performed at least minor miracles for me. You can read hundreds of primarily positive reviews here:

Regarding diet, I've moved away almost entirely from genetically altered grains as well as sugar in its many forms. Oh, and if you haven't already done this, the next time you go to the grocery store, observe how much floor space is consumed by products made from just these substances. It's staggering. When you observe also the dramatic increase in obesity in our culture, it doesn't take much imagination to suspect a correlation. Here are two books I've read that make this eye-opening connection in great and I think persuasive detail:

Anyway, this dietary change has had some noticeable benefits too, and if it seems extreme, it doesn't feel like it. There are plenty of suitable substitutes for GAG's, some of them delicious. More stores now carry Einkorn wheat, pasta, etc., an ancient wheat that has not been tampered with genetically; and just recently I discovered hemp hearts at Costco, another genetically unaltered grain similar to bulgur. Good stuff, and there's lots of buzz about this too:

Next time I'll talk about mental fitness - and coconut oil!

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