Vincent van Gogh once said, "Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together." Ol' Vinnie ought to know a thing or two about impulsiveness-after all, he did cut off his left ear-but his greatness is the real issue. I don't know about van Gogh, but I get a lot of my ideas, good and bad, from the, uh, reading room. Some are big ideas, but it's mostly a collection of little ones.
The other morning, I randomly opened my Jeg's catalog to the high-torque starters. I must've thumbed past that page a dozen times, but for whatever reason, my radar locked on it this time. In the course of about three seconds, I asked myself the following questions: Do I need this new starter? Should I get one of those budget ones? Should I go all-out for the top-of-the-line? What's the advantage?
People are always telling me they love their reading room; more specifically, they like the reading material in it. Unlike the "sanitary" half of the bathroom, which is the sole property of the female, the reading room half belongs (like the garage) to the man. Don't say that too loudly around the "boss"; we can just agree that it's true.
A publishing company like Primedia has an interesting take on the reading room phenomenon. There are tons of magazines around. There are literally stacks of 'em piled in the hallway. When nature calls, you grab a mag-but which one? Rule number one: never go into the Primedia bathroom when you see a guy coming out with a magazine tucked under his arm-especially a good one. Notice how you never see a girl headed to the can with a mag? Not that I watch for that sort of thing.
What's in your reading room? I sure as heck know it's not the computer. And if it is, I don't want details. Here's the current long-term inventory in my water closet: Summit catalog, Jeg's catalog, an old issue of Maxim (with Jennifer Love Hewitt, back when she was hot), aircraft books, some PHRs (natch), and a few competitive titles that shall remain nameless. So where does the Internet fit into any of this? Uh, nowhere. That exit off the Information Superhighway remains entirely unpaved.
The reading room-not the garage-is the place where nine out of ten hot-rodding projects get started. That's the van Gogh tie-in. A little idea from here, another one from there, and before you know it, you've built a whole masterpiece in your mind. If the idea sticks and develops further, you've got the real deal on your hands, and it all started on the throne. What is it about the smallest room in the house that can spur the expenditure of such tremendous resources? It sure isn't the scenery. Maybe it's because literally any spot on earth is better than the toilet, so when we leave it, it's always an improvement. It's the opposite of that old saying, "I must be on top of the world, because everywhere I go, I'm headed downhill."
This is the one place where I can really drill into a magazine. The top stories are usually read at the newsstand before buying, so that leaves the "boring" pages. We continually compare the parts and cars to what we have or want. In that quiet room, you have the time to mentally gauge the coolness or un-coolness of each printed idea with your own sensibilities.
Yet this magnificent place is not a true library. Space is limited, so important choices have to be made. Bringing a catalog or mag into hallowed chambers means you'll be reading it repeatedly. It's a point of interest that we judge these books so automatically and (surprise) accurately, without even thinking. If publishing executives could figure out what's going on inside our heads when we do this, they could retire as millionaires. Oops-they already do, but you know what I mean. The irony here is that it's the highest honor to be chosen as lavatory material; it's the Holy Grail of publishing. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go to the reading room. I think I'm full of it.