156 Weeks

Giant Brains

This will be the 156th consecutive Friday book story. 3 x 52 weeks. I’m told there are 177 stories altogether. Some weeks I posted two.

Maybe it is time to stop.

Maybe I’ve overstayed my welcome.

I never thought I would have the discipline to do this.

The first one I wrote kind of on a dare and in reply to insults. I’d been putting it off for years.

I thought bloggers were sad people sitting in their parents’ basements tapping away about their emotions and what really bugs them.

156 consecutive weeks is a testament to…a gentle madness.

Actually, a mania.

But I’m glad some of the history of bookselling in these days and going back to the 80s has been recorded.

Over and over and over and over…


BUT

I AM quitting.

…early for the day!

15 days in a row in the 90s and another 10 or so on the way. No rain for a long time.

I’m done. Toast. Tired of it all.

I’m going to Leesburg, Virginia to get some wine at Costco and then dinner outside at the stunning Lightfoot Restaurant*. I wonder if the town and the restaurant will be changing their names.

*The restaurant was named in honor of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a member of the prominent Lee family in colonial Virginia. He moved the colony in the direction of independence and represented Virginia in signing the Declaration of Independence.

The building is a redesigned grand bank building complete with the vault doors and other bankish things. The walls are hung with huge vintage French liquor and food posters. There’s even one depicting the Green Fairy (La Fée Verte) who dwells in Absinthe. I won’t be joining the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Aleister Crowley, Erik Satie, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron and Alfred Jarry…in a dram of wormwood or even a Pastis today. I have to be in the mood for that. Mishandling too many Pastis, and I’ll be in pain later.

Maybe a martini. Just one. They’re HUGE there.

Well, maybe just two.

I like a martini
Two at the most
Three I’m under the table
Four I’m under the host!

Dorothy Parker

It is Thursday, and the week has flown by in a blur. And I haven’t gotten anything done—at least to my satisfaction.

How did this week start?

My first ever troll on these blogs!

I didn’t “Approve” the comment. It was embarrassing—to both of us.

That’s ok. It was actually kind of funny in a sad way.

I was called “a little brained bookseller.” I found that hurtful. It made me so sad I felt I might just melt. Is it because I have “an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or I am overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions?”

Am I a “snowflake”?

Maybe.

Nah!

But more than that, I feel it is a kind of hate speech. Like calling someone short “short.” Or big “big.”

Calling me “a little brained bookseller” is wounding and malicious. Because the truth hurts. Mean people rub your nose in your faults. I am so sad…

I can’t help being “a little brained bookseller.” Although I wasn’t born a bookseller. I guess I could stop being a bookseller, but I would still be…

Like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, I have often thought: ‘If I only had a brain.’

No hope for improvement now though. I’ll just have to muddle on. Oblivious of so many things. But, now, and forever reminded of my fatal flaw. Or at least my flaw du jour.


Saturday

I decided once and for all to end the Battle of the Western Front.

I found a BIG slab of stone near the warehouse. I could barely lift it. 125 pounds?

I set it over the plugged groundhog hole.

Plugged Groundhog Hole

‘Take that!’ I thought. ‘Problem solved. Should’ve done this years ago.’

The next day feeling a little cocky, I found some white spray paint in the supply room.

Painted Groundhog Hole Rock

When I was leaving that evening, I went to inspect my labors.

Red Groundhog Hole Rock

It took my breath away. NOT!!

The red paint was still wet to the touch.

At least I think it was paint…

Will I ever be rid of this dread tormenter?


Between those incidents, my weekend was mostly carts of old or unusual books.

The same as every weekend within memory.

There were a few nice finds.

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But mostly it was the grind I am required to do. If I don’t, the backlog just gets worse.

The 4th of July! I went up to the old house in PA. All the family was gathered. The boys handled the cooking out. (I brought tuna, shrimp, steak and lamb.)

In the old days, we would throw parties in the big backyard. I think 125 guests was the highest. I wasn’t that much more social then. I just forced myself. Now I don’t even try.

All those years, I would lay on the grass and watch the fiery sky while explosions boomed and sparklers crackled.

I lay on the grass in 2020, and…it wasn’t the same.

Some dread was overhanging my spirit.

What is wrong with the Fourth of July?


The 40th (FORTIETH) anniversary of the Frederick bookstore’s opening will take place in September.

I am proud to say I have never censored any books. (Well, we don’t stock bomb making books nor hard-core “adult” material…)

Many, many years ago the FBI visited the store and asked if I had sold anyone The Anarchist’s Cookbook. I replied:

“We sell a lot of cook books. I’ve never heard of that one.”

(I was very young and inexperienced about radical material then.)

Turns out some judge in a nearby town had been pipe bombed, and the design was taken from the “Cookbook.”

When it was explained to me, I decided then and there I wouldn’t be responsible for anyone blowing someone or themselves up. They could seek that kind of literature elsewhere.

Despite my personal prejudices about history, politics or literature or art or …, I would stock books I thought were wrong. I would stock books I hated. I would stock books I thought were bad.

I would not let my personal feelings censor books in my stores. A good bookstore presents all views.

I remember an old-time preacher who was actually a pretty good customer for religious books and history asked me in all seriousness:

“You have all these books on Evolution. How come you don’t have any on Creationism?”

“I would if any came in,” I replied.

And I would.

Why?

If you want to be a BLBB (bigger little brained bookseller), you want to have books on Creationism for those who believe AND for those who do not. A lot of Anti-Creationists may want to study them—to see what they are up against.

I remember the best customers for Anti-Mormon or Anti-Papacy were usually LDS members and Catholics.

In an intellectual battle:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu

That is why I read the spectrum of print media and listen to many differently slanted TV and radio shows. Slanted every which way.

Same with books.

In 1988 when The Satanic Verses came out, there were threats against bookstores which might carry it. It was actually threatening and worrisome. We carried it. But we sure didn’t put it in the front window!

In 1995, a very popular Pop History book was published. Lies My Teachers Told Me. I would call it history lite. It was written by a sociologist (not a historian) James Loewen. Loewen studied a dozen US History textbooks used in the 80s and early 90s and “concluded that textbook authors propagate factually false, Eurocentric, and mythologized views of history.”

The book reflects Loewen’s belief that history should not be taught as straightforward facts and dates to memorize, but rather as analysis of the context and root causes of events. Loewen recommends that teachers use two or more textbooks, so that students may realize the contradictions and ask questions, such as, “Why do the authors present the material like this?”

Now that book is a “textbook” used by teachers in High School and college—sometimes the ONLY textbook used in some classes.

Unfortunately, Loewen doesn’t present all sides of the argument either. He either missed some glaring facts or ignored them. Here is one critique:

A typical chapter in Loewen’s required text is called “1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus.” Loewen summarizes the achievement of Columbus in these words: “Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.”

As an extreme view, Loewen’s amateur text might be a useful subject of analysis and discussion. It is certainly not an accurate view of the historical record, since the taking of land, wealth and labor from indigenous people, leading to their near extermination, was a well-known practice of the Romans, long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Moreover, the intercontinental slave trade (though not the translatlantic one) long pre-dated Columbus making his role hardly revolutionary as Loewen claims.

But Lowen’s tendentious text is not offered as a text to be examined critically and objectively as a reflection of extreme, uninformed, polemical views.

Horowitz

Ummm…didn’t the Egyptians enslave Nubians and Semitics? In the Western Hemisphere, didn’t the Aztecs and Mayans and other bloodthirsty cultures take land, wealth and labor from their fellow indigenous cultures?

The book mentions the devastation smallpox and other diseases wrought upon the indigenous populations. It doesn’t, I believe, mention that the New World almost certainly gave the gift of syphilis to the Old World:

The origin of syphilis is disputed. Syphilis was present in the Americas before European contact, and it may have been carried from the Americas to Europe by the returning crewmen from Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Americas, or it may have existed in Europe previously but gone unrecognized until shortly after Columbus’s return. These are the Columbian and pre-Columbian hypotheses, respectively, with the Columbian hypothesis better supported by the evidence.

Wikipedia

I’m sure the early explorers had no idea about the plagues they were introducing nor the ones they were bringing back.

Nor does Loewen dig deeper into the murky history (or lack thereof) of the late 15th and very early 16th centuries to investigate what books HIS “facts” come from. (There was NO history of Europeans in the New World prior to 1493 and very little for many years after. Yes, I know about the Vikings in the 11th and 12th centuries.)

There is no mention that many of the other states and powers seeking to move into this New World might benefit from spreading misinformation about Spain. If you want to look deeper on this possibility, see the Black Legend and decide if you believe any of it on your own.

Spreading misinformation to make the opposition appear demonic…it has a long tradition.

I am no fan of Columbus the exploiter or the Egyptians, Romans, Mongols, Visigoths, Aztecs, Mayans, … as exploiters, all of whom used conquest and torture to do…what humans did back then—for millennia.

At any rate, don’t get your facts about anyone or anything from one book.

Homo unius libri*

*Beware the man of one book.

I recommend reading a LOT of books on things which interest you. ESPECIALLY the ones that challenge your dogmas or the dogmas which have been imprinted on you.

“Read uncomfortable books!”

(Did I just make that up?)

Also, I must urge you to BUY lots of books. Lots and lots!

I can recommend a place if you want.

So, it has been 40 years of buying and selling and recycling popular AND unpopular books.

Not a bad run.

And no sign of quitting on the horizon.

July 1980, I was an immature “skull of mush” just beginning a job in a used bookstore. My views were not my own but parroting what had been indoctrinated in me by teachers and media. I was not widely read.

(The Paper Chase was a good book and a great movie.)

I came into this business with a skull full of mush and now “think like a bookseller.” I think, I think.


Friday

Friday #156. Another Friday deadline.

Will I get to 1001? I doubt it.

The vans are leaving the docks at the warehouse. They will take sail to and from the three stores today.

All the stores are requesting water because of the heat. The watercoolers are still not in use. Walmart is STILL restricting how much bottled water we can order to 4 cases. Bizarre. We sought other sources.

Water Pallet

I used to like Dr Dean Edell. He always thought what a joke it was that people would actually pay money for water in plastic bottles. I don’t understand it either. I stay away from plastic containers. I grew up on tap water. Must be a generational thing.

We have collected a good deal of food since the stores reopened.

Canned Food

We will get this load picked up by the Rescue Mission next week.

I did get to Leesburg yesterday. At Costco, I loaded up on wine. They had Bonny Doon, Cigare Volant (Flying Cigar/saucer) and St Supery Sauvignon Blanc, among many others.

I used to be a Bonny Doon groupie. I was unhappy when they went to all plastic and metal twist tops. Old school, I guess. I even visited their winery years ago in Santa Cruz.

I still have some nicely aging Cardinal Zin—with corks!

After shopping, we went to Lightfoots. It was too hot to sit outdoors. It is a gorgeous space. I have had some very memorable and iconic evenings there.

The old bank ceilings are impossibly high and airy.

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I had a Vesper. And then another.

Vesper

We chatted about books, life, the universe and everything…

The staffed moved about like a Greek chorus—masked—as if there were in a different play from us.

The Green Fairy looked down tauntingly. He has not changed since the Belle Epoque. Nor will he ever change.

The Green Fairy

I have changed in the 20 years since I first came here with my friend and doctor and best book customer—all the same person.

I recall sitting below this same Green Fairy.

I’ve been here on important life changing visits. I haven’t come enough.


A charity that sends books to people in Africa dropped off a load on Thursday. They are being carted up today, so I can scan them more quickly.

I’ll let you know if I find some treasures next week.

The head of the organization told me he used to pulp the old books before he found out about us.

I’m proud of the books we rescue. *


I’ve gotten straight home most nights this week.

I’m putting in more beds for plants.

This one is turning out like a Fang Garden.

Fang Garden

The more beds I create, the more there is, the further behind I get.

A corollary:

The more books I take in, the more there are, the further I get behind…

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Well, I would like a better brain.

And I wish she had never…

Wait!

That’s two things!


I decided to get a bit ahead of the weekend, and I’ve already found these.

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I used to read a lot of Eugene O’Neill. Mourning Becomes Electra, Long Day’s Journey into Night

Is he passé now?

I don’t see him produced much anymore.

Chuck Carts

14 Comments on Article

  1. Richard commented on

    There once was a bear named Pooh, he too of the small brain. But he is beloved and has imparted more wisdom to more children [and adults who read to their children] than all the Brainiacs.

    Looking forward to the next installment, weather consecutive or not.

    1. Chuck replied on

      Thank you Richard!
      I think i’ve done ok w what I was blessed with.
      I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

      Best
      Chuck

    2. Michael Dirda replied on

      Re: “Read uncomfortable books.” I’ve said more than once that the books that are likely to last from one generation to the next are those that make us feel uncomfortable, or offkilter, or puzzled when they first appear. The books we like right now often only speak to this moment. Of course, this is a generalization and applies mainly to fiction and poetry, with many exceptions. I’m also reminded of that famous Kafka quote that begins “The books we need are those that serve as an ax for the frozen sea inside us.”–md

      1. Charles Roberts replied on

        Thank you Michael.
        Maybe Read Uncomfortable Books can become a wonder Book t-shirt

        I’m trying to imagine some graphics
        The Trial
        The Castle
        Metamorphosis …

        I appreciate you taking time to comment !
        Chuck

  2. john schulman commented on

    Chuck, I’ve always liked you and thought you were extremely intelligent, even when you were irritating the hell out of me as a gadfly on the ABAA chatline, and now that I am out of the loop on that, I like reading your stuff even more. May you have another 156 weeks of good stories and great finds, and another and another after that. And once in a while, when you think you have a story that you think would appeal to visitors to the ABAA website, I encourage you to send it to Rich, if he’s still doing the website. Your old friend, John

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Dear John, You and a couple others “inspired” me to start these in a formal way. If you see a story you think might there fit feel free to comment or email me. Take care and sláinte mhaith.
      Best
      Chuck

  3. Gary Fowler commented on

    Speaking for myself and uncountable others, I always look forward to your blog; found it a year ago or a bit more. Comfortable, conversational, insightful, humorous, informational, boundary-exploding sometimes… Really appreciate your approach to saving books, and “books by the foot” is inspired. I’m on the opposite coast, so won’t likely get to your stores unless I someday travel to explore my St. Mary’s County roots. Best wishes and keep it all up!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Your words are so kind Gary.
      Thank you for the thoughtful comments.
      I’ll keep pushing out stories as long as I can.
      Books are endless and I hope there’s a new story line each week
      Best
      Chuck

  4. Zen commented on

    Dear Bookseller,

    Right away I must say, PLEASE do not EVER give up on your writing, WE LOYAL READERS NEED YOU. My heart skipped a few beats reading your most recent post! Again, please, don’t stop writing! The line break I experienced was enough to take my breath away….please, keep writing and posting, so many of us care. 🙂
    Your words and experience are your own. I hope you can feel how very many of your Wonder Book patrons cherish you and support you. You are correct in addressing how important bookselling in this time is…future generations need to know.
    Whether you continue to strive for a vast number of posting (1001+) I believe(hope) your emotions and experiences of being a bookseller in these bizarre times will carry you forth.
    We readers appreciate your dedication, commitment, and delivery of weekly posts (and more) when we log on to see what new adventures await.
    Your video skills are also greatly appreciated, not just the recent fantastic Fourth of July celebration, but the weekly inclusions as well. You have some stellar video tech skills!
    Whatever we all face ahead, know that Wonder Book will survive, victorious. We all support you , the amazing staff, and # BOOK RESCUE….Always.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Dear Zen,
      Your words are inspiring. If I can reach a few people like you I need to find more and more stories.

      Books are forever – unchangeable.

      Thank you, thank you,
      Chuck

  5. Susan Bruner commented on

    I believe we all harbor thoughts that are of no encouragement to our better selves. When those secret thoughts are poked by barbed comments by gutless cyber trolls we allow the barbs to hurt. I send you encouragement to salve you wounds. Do not allow the useless words of a nobody become anything. Delete, move on, think happy thoughts. All those lovely books. All those words arranged and re-arranged to create so many lovely books. Think on these things. I doubt the nobody could begin to have a serious discussion about books and you sir, have so much wonderful book thoughts it is hard to imagine. Keep on keeping on. Thank you for all you do.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      You are correct Susan. I should and have moved. It was a surprise though.
      I believe the person who sent the bad comments might be young and needs to expand what they’ve read.
      Part of this story was addressed to that person – who I hope read it.

      Thank you for the comforting and inspiring thought.

      Next week begins Year 4!

      Cheers!
      Chuck

  6. Ellen T. Anderson commented on

    No! No! Please don’t stop writing your blog. I so look forward to reading about your discoveries, , learning from you, sharing your disappointments, watching your gardening and keeping up to date on the groundhog battle. You’re such a delight and certainly not at all “small brained”. Only an ignoramus would write such a thing about you. Carry on, please.

    1. Chuck replied on

      Thank you so much Ellen!
      Some of my “complaints” were tongue in cheek.
      I’m starting on the next 3 years this week. I hope!
      Those remarks are so kind.
      I will try to live up to them!
      Best
      Chuck

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