A Plague on Your Thanksgiving

Lone Rose

Last Saturday was another brutal sweet day of sorting thousands of books on several dozen carts at the Wonder Book/Books by the Foot warehouse.

I went home tired, sore and spent. I could not put on talk radio or a movie or watch something my satellite recorded.

I plugged my iPhone into the stereo and put Pandora on. I selected “my” Ralph Vaughan Williams* Channel.

(* His name is pronounced Rafe Voorn Williams—it is an English thing.)

Big mistake.

Pandora choose the works it wants to play.

In seconds, I was in the thrall and throes of RVW’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.”

You may want to watch this October 2020 performance rather than reading the rest of this story. It’s ok. It is socially distanced.

I fell onto my bed. The chords rended and mended me for a quarter hour. I picked up the legal pad that is one of my constant bed companions and wrote through the tears.

The yearning in this piece, the yearning for…something…

Yearning for something lost?

The knowledge that there is an unsolvable mystery all about us, yearning to know, to understand.

I could never listen to this without tears welling up.

Last Saturday it hurt and healed more than…I don’t know…ever? Overwhelming.

I heard the voices of departed friends and family in the strings.


Our own “Terror.” A little terror compared to what other times and places have suffered.

But terror enough for me—spoiled by a lifetime in a generally sane country and world. A lifetime of lucky-to-be-here despite the ups and downs, assaults on freedom and sense.

Other problems I’ve experienced soon went away, or took place far away, or couldn’t get in my way.

This thing, this Plague, is in my face every day, on my face every day—for over 8 months now. Unrelenting.

I hope we do not ever go through a worse year.

On Sunday, I went into work and waded through more carts, more books, more people’s lives and losses, more people’s joys and pieces of life, more booklovers’ “pride-and-joys.” More writers’, printers’, binders’, publishers’, editors’, reviewers’, booksellers’ lives. This week I traveled from the 15th century through this year.

The worked drained me physically. It filled me emotionally. My cup overflowed.

What else is there for me to do?

The Mission. The only thing I’m really good at.

Nowhere to go. No one to see.

When I am with the books, I am not alone with my thoughts.

The day passes and then is over.

I’m too spent to worry or weep (unless I put on RVW…)

Plus, when I quit, it is cocktail hour.

An escape of a more chemical sort.

The weekend is over.

The cycle starts again Monday morning.

I go into work, and I am surrounded by millions of books just like the weekend. But I am also surrounded by dozens of people. All of them pulling this giant wagon along in the different ways they do—to make it all work. To keep paying the bills and salaries and taxes and loans.

The pullers. The packers. Data entry. Sorters. Warehouse people unloading and loading vans to go to the stores. The office managers—the brains which guide the behemoth. Thousands of books in constant motion every minute of each hour we are open. Perhaps they move around when we are closed as well. I wouldn’t be surprised.

A Litany in Time of Plague
Thomas Nashe

Adieu, farewell, earth’s bliss;
This world uncertain is;
Fond are life’s lustful joys;
Death proves them all but toys;
None from his darts can fly;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade.
All things to end are made,
The Plague full swift goes by;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds open her gate.
“Come, come!” the bells do cry.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Wit with his wantonness
Tasteth death’s bitterness;
Hell’s executioner
Hath no ears for to hear
What vain art can reply.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Haste, therefore, each degree,
To welcome destiny;
Heaven is our heritage,
Earth but a player’s stage;
Mount we unto the sky.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

circa 1592


The leaves are all down. All sere and brown. My car wheels grind them to powder as I bump up or down, from higher ground to lower ground…and back again.

The forest now reveals itself from root to canopy.

The trees shed dead wood. The forest floor is littered with their bones, their skeletal limbs fallen from above.

The woodstove windows glow orange/yellow/red like a dragon’s eye nearly every day and night.

There is almost no more green. No conifers up here. Some swaths of mountain laurels hold their leaves of darkest green five to ten feet above the earth; some moss and lichen glow green on stones or long fallen decomposing trees.

It is dark when I get home. Night in the day. There is little work I can do outside unless I stay away from the workday. I can turn on the spotlights, but they only reach just so far. Beyond their pools is blackness.

At work, the day started as others cleaned up my weekend work. I left the place littered with tubs and boxes and carts all loaded with sorted books.

I took one of the vans to a store for a swap.

In the afternoon, I wanted to get outside. The tomatoes and peppers are all dead now. I pulled the heavy plants out of the warehouse gardens and dragged them to the pickup truck. A lot of tomatoes dropped off onto the pavement.

Dropped Tomatoes

The dead vines filled much of the truck bed.

I went to the Farm—now pretty dormant, although every week or so someone goes through with the real estate people. There were a lot of tomato plants I helped put in beds around the house there.

I picked those up as well.

I decided to go home after picking up a Rx. It is on the way. I bought a turkey there as well. 68 cents a pound, by the way.

I stopped on my steep-sloping driveway at a point where the deep logging ditch comes nearest it.

When I opened the tailgate, a couple dozen little green tomatoes rolled out.

Truck Tomatoes

It was amusing and bizarre to watch them bump and bounce incongruously down the forested mountain lane.

I dragged the dead plants into the ditch where they will decompose.


I was running late.

Clif had reminded me via text as I drove in that we were going on a house call. I arrived and left immediately. I followed him and a helper in a second van.

The place was close. South of Frederick, not too far from the Potomac River. The call had been in the works for a month or more as the daughter made arrangements to clear out her dad’s place, and the family took what they wanted to keep.

We pulled up to a guardhouse of sorts.

It is a high-end retirement community.

Now there is a line of cars to get in. Masked attendants come to each vehicle and take the names and info of those inside. Each holds an iPad, recording everyone’s data. They asked questions like a TSA agent.

The list of questions is very long.

Are you sick? Have you been around anyone sick? Have you been tested because you had symptoms? …????

The interview is concluded with a temperature test. I remove my hat and sweep my ridiculously long hair aside to give her a direct route to my forehead.

I pass the test and am passed through.

We pass dozens of duplex homes. All have the same tan colored siding. Everything here is the same color. Oddly, it seems that about a quarter of the houses are being re-roofed.


Maybe the shingles are all approaching their life expectancy. This place was put up just about 20 years ago.

Today the grounds are littered with contractor and commercial vehicles. There is something going on at nearly every other house. We add two vans to that fleet.

I pray to God I will never end up at a place like this. I hope I can bumble on and bump along til I drop with finality.

I see some of the houses are larger—”Villas” versus “Bungalows.”

Clif turns into a cul-de-sac, and I park behind him. A moving truck is backed to the front of the duplex. Small masked men roll furniture out. Everything is wrapped in clear plastic.

We introduce ourselves to the masked daughter. She leads us in and down to the lower level. The place is much larger than it appears from the outside. The wall-to-wall carpeting and the painted walls are light earth tones like the exteriors. There is no color here.

Is that by mandate?

Calm is the word. Calm is the culture here. Calm. Calm. Rest. Wait. Rest.

The books have already been boxed for us. All in uniform boxes.

Boxed Books

Most are packed spine up. I peek in and scan the titles. There are a lot of science textbooks from long ago. I guess that the dad, now moved to assisted living, was a doctor.

“Do you want the bookcases?”

One wall is lined with nice bookcases. We have no place to store or use them. It would be beyond problematic to sell them in the stores. And then there is the question of moving them.


“I wish we could. We have no place to put them.”

“I’ll get the movers to take them.”

I can only make a token offer. The books were numerous but dreary, dated.

She is satisfied with it.

“My dad got a lot of these from your store.”

How many generations have we served now?

I leave Clif and a helper to do the toting. They will roll the boxes out the back and up the slope of the lawn to their van.

I follow them out and up. This will be a lot of work.

The owner had a beautiful view out the back.

House Call View

Some day this will all be paved and built. Perhaps the retirement community will expand into the farmland.

I hop into the oldest (by far) Wonder van and head for the Frederick store.

Old Van

I do a quick inspection. My son is managing. The place looks great.

I am proud of all three stores and the warehouse. That is a rarity. One of them is usually dysfunctional. A quadfecta!

I climb—literally—up into the old 24-foot box truck. The driver’s seat is about 5 feet off the ground. I start it up, and the beast rumbles and snorts and shakes. I need to let it warm up for some minutes. Otherwise it will stall. If it stalls on the highway, I have learned to instantly slip it into neutral and let it glide while I turn the key for it to roar back to life.

So far, so good.

It is much less disconcerting to let her warm up as she prefers.

At the warehouse, I back her to Dock 6. Slowly, slowly til she hits the building. There are heavy rubber bumpers attached to the wall just below the docks. Those are the targets I must hit. As gently as possible.

Clif and the warehouse guys are unloading the van from the house call. I had made an offer on a LOT of framed stuff to the daughter. Much of it was boxed, and I had bid unseen. I unpacked them and put sticker prices on them on the docks so they could be repacked and sent to the stores.

Framed Stuff

Two lovely hand-colored Walter Cranes appear. I hadn’t seen them. On the backs, envelopes are attached. Inside, the owner relates when and where he had bought them in Hay-on-Wye.

Hay-on-Wye…in many ways the subconscious inspiration to my career. When King Richard Booth died a year ago, I meant to do a story on him. I had never met the regent, only heard of him many years later. But I had friends who had his trade.

His modus operandi was to sweep into a used bookstore and make an offer on the books on entire swathes of shelves.

The owner would be thrilled with the magnificent sale. The books were packed and shipped to Wales. Payment would come…eventually. Most of the time.



Thanksgiving Eve

This holiday is still a big deal for the stores and the internet sales.

We had several meetings working out what deals would be offered.

Would we open early? Yes.

We loaded up all the stores with supplies and inventory to see them through the expected hoards of ravenous customers.

I did the Gaithersburg swap. I pulled some tubs of SciFi paperbacks to be shipped to a pris…correctional institution.

A friend had asked for a copy of the Lil Abner movie. I remember my school presented the musical.

Now it is out of style. Perhaps on the cusp of being banned. Amazon has a handful of DVDs from $40-100. Can you stream it? I dunno.

I searched our inventory. None there but 2 copies of the 1940 version feature Buster Keaton. My friend was looking for the musical.

That is a good argument for buying hard copies of things. Social media and the cancel culture…the movies you want may not be available anymore.

Someday, some of your favorite books may be banned. Or, worse, digitally bowdlerized.

Many books are already illegal for us to send to some countries.

Acquire hard copies. They can never be changed or stopped or canceled. Only confiscated.

There is an air of expectation in the company. Tomorrow we will be closed. We only close on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Early in the day, Annika and I staged some fancy old leather and cloth for the One of a Kind at The Boutique shop on the Books by the Foot website. The offerings are pure eye candy. That is the only function of these books. We have 6 or 7 lots to go through from bookseller colleagues who also see no other options for these beauties.

These books are imported from California, New England, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York… We are their only hope. Some are stunningly beautiful.

No one wants them to read or collect. If they were sent to the stores, they would sit, stagnate, deteriorate.

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Later, I sent Annika the images I took with my iPhone. Some are not very good. I am good at shooting pictures for Instagram. Shooting eye candy on a white paper background is tough. I blame the phone.

She created descriptions and catalog numbers for them and uploaded them for sale.

At the end of the day, I went to her station in the Photo Room and inspected some of the books she researched.

There’s an enormously thick volume of The Trial of Col. Aaron Burr on an Indictment for Treason. 1807.

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I peeked on the cart for books she would get to eventually. A tiny vellum thing jumped into my hand. An odd volume of “Geographie” in Latin from the seventeenth century. I flipped through it and unfolded a near-hidden map on rag paper.

I took it over to her.

“Look California is an island!”

America Settentrional Map

She got a kick out of that.

We do good work here.

I went home. I didn’t grill any more open-faced tomato sandwiches.

Actually, that’s a lie. I DID! The very, VERY last. No more tomatoes will come home with me. But I didn’t eat one. They joined their frozen comrades for the winter ahead.

I have a couple years’ worth of firewood cut and stacked. I have a huge supply of once fresh tomato and cheese open-face sandwiches stockpiled as well.

It’s ok to hoard things no one else wants. Especially if you will use it.

I heated restaurant leftovers for dinner and took them to the reclining couch and switched on the TV.

I put on a DVD of Macbeth and watched the witches rise from the wasteland as if they had just then been animated from turf. Elemental creatures from even more ancient times.

“Art thou but a dagger of the mind?…”


6:08 a.m. I awake for the second time. (The intermission this night was between 1 and 2:30 a.m.) I arose to let a dog out. The glowing weather station says it is 66 degrees inside. 55 out. I don’t approach close enough to read the humidities, etc. It is supposed to get into the mid-60s today. I go to the Vermont Castings woodstove and open both dampers. (One engages the catalytic converter.)

There’s no need to keep a fire going today. Opening the dampers will let it burn itself out quickly.

I let the dog back in and send the other out. It is dark and damp. Perhaps there was a little rain.

I check my phone. 93% humidity outside, but apparently no more rain here or in Northern Virginia today.

Returning to bed, I look at my Instagram accounts. Wonder Book 6612 followers. 67,195 weekly impressions. Books by the Foot 12,852 followers. 129,365 impressions. My account merryandpippinlotr 769. I make no “impression” since it is not a commercial account.

Should I head in and work on some carts? No one else will be there.

No. Not on Thanksgiving Day—such as it is.

I dozed a bit. It is 7:03. Sunrise in three minutes. But it is cloudy and won’t show. It is brightening. Birds are singing off and on. Their songs are muffled by the closed windows. I can see them flitting across my window view to the feeders suction-cupped to the bay window in the next room. Mostly chickadees, titmice, nuthatches lately.

I did see the first junco arrived from far to the north this week. A sure sign winter is nigh.

I dozed a bit more. It felt good just to curl up between flannel sheets beneath a comforter above which two heavy woolen blankets layer on. It is quite warm beneath all this. There is a feeling of safety as well. A cocoon…a womb—though I don’t remember much about that.

It is so quiet. I occasionally hear the light flitting landing of a bird on the windowsill in the next room—or the tapping open of a sunflower seed against the shingle roof.

Showered and shaved, I decided to crawl back into bed to write a bit. I’ve been wondering what is happening in the weird bookstore in the Round and Round stories. Imagine a cat being an able bookseller! She has proven herself adept at online research as well as cataloging on a laptop. She has even become a kind of advisor in her own quiet way. I know the bookseller misses his assistant Althea, who was enlisted to accompany the world’s last Snallygaster to safer lands in the West. The cat in question, Mathilda, had been her cat. When Althea left, Mathilda moved into the bookstore of her own volition. I know she misses the woman. I do too. Perhaps I’ll look in and see what is happening there this Thanksgiving morning.

I’ll put the whistling teapot on for coffee. Feed Merry and Pippin. Write a bit. Then I will go outside and dig up a few plants to take as gifts to my son’s home in Virginia. He has some shady spots, and it will be easy to dig up some Blackberry Lilies, Lungwort, Oregano…and I’ll see what else looks like easy pickings. I know what’s what in my gardens.

I’m back home. The Plague Thanksgiving was odd. His in-laws were there as well. We all kept our distance in the charming little stone bungalow in Virginia. There were only 7 of us, so we weren’t breaking any laws—unless they changed when I wasn’t looking. Still, I had the feeling we would be disapproved of by those watching over us from afar.

According to the experts, we should each be home curled up alone under blankets and a comforter, between flannel sheets for own our well-being.

It was very lovely traditional dinner. It is the first Thanksgiving I’ve spent outside Pennsylvania since I was a kid in the late 70s. (I was reminded the family was overseas for two Thanksgivings. One was spent in Scotland. The other was in Spain. On that trip, we had Thanksgiving dinner at what claimed to be one of the oldest restaurant buildings in Europe—in Andorra, of all places. I recall them grilling bread and other food on an open grate in a massive ancient fireplace. The building was a “Borda”—formerly a kind of low-ceilinged barn.)

It is 11 pm. Late for me. I did a little research. I searched: COVID Age Death.

Of the 240,000 “Deaths Involving COVID 19″—about 225,000 are over the age of 55.

That is nearly 94%.

75,000 are over 85.

That is about 31% of the deaths that “Involve COVID.”

6% of the deaths are younger than 55.

The CDC report cites the US population at 382 million.

The population over 85 is 6.6 million. That is only 2% of the 382 million. Life is insanely risky for those over 85. 31% is 15 times (FIFTEEN TIMES) over-representation.


Why do I need to dig for this data?

Why isn’t this reported along with the scare anecdotes? Some poor schlub catches it at a wedding and dies somewhere, and it is a news headline.

Exactly what does it mean when one’s death “Involves” COVID?

If you want to stretch your mind, try to decipher “Excess Deaths” on this CDC site.

There’s something wrong with the numbers. There’s something wrong with lots of numbers right now.

Numbers, data, meaning, context can be manipulated by…the powerful.

I’m no denier.

I don’t want to catch it. I’m in a high-risk category.

The somber, officious, sometimes funereal and bureaucratic-looking regional leaders should be cautioning older people to stay home.

The Pennsylvania Governor—out of Central Casting—ordered liquor sales to stop and bars and restaurants to stop selling alcohol at 5 pm Wednesday.

The Maryland Governor sent State Police to hundreds of bars and restaurants to check on “Compliance” Wednesday evening.

Returning from a small family gathering, I wondered seriously if there would be checkpoints on the north shore of the Potomac.

I do expect closures and bans soon.

I do expect checkpoints in the next few years—not necessarily Plague related.

When I was in Junior High, I borrowed (i.e. appropriated) one of my, then radical, brother Jimmie’s books. It was called A Nation of Sheep by William Lederer.

Carrying the paperback around school, I recall several teachers noting it—teachers I did not know. They said “political” things to me. A couple recommended other books. It was my first exposure to “sides.” My parents were Democrats. Back then, it wasn’t a “side.” It was part of the blend, the stew. I don’t know what they’d be classified as today.

I was all of 12 years old.

Now, these many years later, I know there are constant attempts to shepherd me. When I do a search online. When I listen to news or read “journalism.”

The greatest shepherds are the young social media oligarchs.

Throughout history, the best shepherds are those whose flocks are blissfully unaware they are being led.


The first house call I made late last spring after the STAY AT HOME rules were lifted was to a sad small hoarder’s house in downtown Frederick.

We got a small quantity of books. The owner—now in a congregate facility—weeks later told those handling the massive task—he wanted a few of the books back. There were three or four Frederick history titles on his list. We found them and sent them back with his helpers.

No charge or refund expected—even though they were the only “good” books in the mess.

I had told them I would not accept the thousands and thousands of classical LPs stacked high on the floor throughout the house at any price. Even zero.

I did notice a mountain of ties when I was there.

“I’d be interested in those if the auctioneers don’t want them.”

Low these many months later, they were dropped off at the warehouse.

Why ties?

I dunno.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Rooting through them briefly yesterday—Thanksgiving—I noted many came from Frederick men’s and haberdasher shops—gone long, long ago…

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Too bad they won’t do for masks. Even the widest won’t cover both nose and mouth.

They’ll go to the stores as accent pieces, conversation starters.

“The owner must be crazy…”

Wonder Book & Cravats.

I’m just glad I didn’t express interest in the hundreds and hundreds of commemorative plates hung on the walls and stacked on the floors.

Black Friday

I awake tired and vague. Age or Plague?

I sometimes feel the mask has reduced my IQ a few points. From what I’ve seen, I’m not alone.

Constantly rebreathing my “exhaust” cannot be healthy.

But I soldier on.

Pennsylvania issued a Universal Mask Mandate earlier this week:

Do I have to wear a mask if alone in my workplace or office?
Everyone must wear a face covering when indoors, irrespective of physical distance…

Do I need to wear a mask when around my family members or at a friend’s house?
Yes. A face covering is required when indoors and around persons who are not part of the same household. For example, if you are a part of a family of four who is hosting a dinner with extended family, friends or neighbors, all attendees must wear face coverings. If having dinner with just the persons who reside in the same home as you, you do not need to wear face coverings.

Should I report someone not wearing a mask? If so, how do I report them?
Individuals should be cautious about reporting individuals who are not wearing a face covering, such as a mask, as individuals may fall under one of the exemptions (including having a medical condition that would excuse them from having to wear a face covering.) However, if there is a legitimate concern about a situation of non-compliance with the Order, local law enforcement agencies can be contacted through their non-emergency phone numbers to investigate issues of compliance. Individuals should not confront anyone who is not wearing a face covering, take enforcement matters into their own hands, or put themselves in a dangerous situation.

And Montgomery County, where our Gaithersburg store is located, expanded its Universal Mask Mandate this week:

When is a face covering not required?

A face covering is not required when you are:

• Actively eating or drinking
• Receiving dental services, shaving, or facial treatments or receiving another service requiring access to your face, mouth, head
• Swimming or engaged in another physical activity where the use of a face covering would pose a bona fide safety risk
• Under the age of 18 and are engaged in vigorous sports—as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics
• Unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition or disability, or are physically unable to remove a face covering
• Unable to wear a wearing a face covering because it impedes communication by, or with, persons who have a hearing impairment or other disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication
• At work and the equipment required for the job does not enable you to wear a face covering or wearing a face covering would endanger public safety
• When you are alone in your office or vehicle

I will comply.

We will all comply here.

We will comply when we are closed up again.

Our small fleet of vans is launching to the three stores. There will likely be five voyages today.

There is now a lonely new room here where I can go and sit and think. Or just sit. We converted an unused closet-like storeroom. It is filling with the eye candy—The One of a Kind Books—at The Boutique.

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Beautiful, vacuous, valueless, expensive…

We try to save them all.


Vaughan Williams (“his name is “barreled”—being made up of multiple names. It is never “Williams.”)

Two episodes made notably deep impressions in Vaughan Williams’s personal life. The First World War, in which he served in the army, had a lasting emotional effect. Twenty years later, though in his sixties and devotedly married, he was reinvigorated by a love affair with a much younger woman, who later became his second wife. He went on composing through his seventies and eighties, producing his last symphony months before his death at the age of eighty-five.


And if you want to know more about his “collaboration” with Thomas Tallis—400 years dead: https://www.wrti.org/post/story-behind-beloved-fantasia-theme-thomas-tallis


Acquire and keep a hard copy.

Books, movies… Own them! The originals.


Don’t think you’ll be able to see or read anything in the future.

Warning Poem below.

Last Saturday when I had my meltdown to the tune of Ralph Vaughan Williams, I managed to scribble some words:

Voices in the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

I hear your voices
John Barbara Jimmie Joe
Mom Dad
I bathe in the chords of Ralph Vaughan Williams
The Minor 5th weeps and wails
The Major roars
The tide of sound pours over me
The tide of emotion smothers me
I drown in the life giving sound
I am filled as I am drained
I miss you I miss you
I will struggle on through pain
I will struggle on through loneliness
I will endeavor to earn the life left
I miss you I miss you
The waves wash over me
Dry sound draws wet tears
I miss you I miss you
I will endeavor to earn the time given
The tide ebbs
My face is wet
Salty streams flow down my cheeks
I will endeavor to earn time
Am I worthy for the memories?
John Barbara Jimmie Joe?
Not yet Not worthy
I will endeavor…
I hear your voices
In the winds and the waves
In the chords that rend and mend
I will endeavor…
For I am left alone here
By you. And you
Abandoned by death
Cast aside by winds and rains
I hear your voices
John Barbara Jimmie Joe
I bathe in their tidal songs
I miss you. I miss you

10 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    Glad you got to spend Thanksgiving with family. Like many folks, our Thursday was pretty restrained compared to the festive days of yore. If you google “Dirda, Washington Post, Ghostland,” you’ll find that my most recent column touches on some of the same themes as this week’s Wonderblog.
    I remember “A Nation of Sheep,” and might even have read it, though it was “The Ugly American,” which made the fortunes of Lederer and Burdick. So long ago. It’s strange how books fall into the Styx and are forgotten. Does anyone now read Irwin Shaw, John Cheever and even John Updike or Norman Mailer?
    But it’s clearly time to collect classical LPs, since not even Wonder Books wants them. I must still have a hundred or so here, not to mention the CDs. At least there’s no cassettes.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Not all Classical LPs are problematic.
      This collection was : enormous, poorly stored, predominantly organ music.
      I am reminded daily of authors for fall into the Styx and flow to Wonder Book – where they don’t sell
      Thanks for writing and sending me to your story. Haunted and haunting.

      1. Geoffrey Hughes replied on

        Wouldn’t it be interesting to know the actual answer to Mr. Dirda’s probably rhetorical question about Updike, Shaw, Mailer? I’ll bet your systems could tell us. As a somewhat reformed hoarder myself (thanks to you and Clif), I’m now dismayed when I reach for a work by one of those authors, and find it’s no longer there (say, Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”). Like the Library of America, WB is a conservator of our literary and popular culture. We’re grateful that this particular Styx has WB as a way station before the crossing over.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          I will ask him.
          Maybe he will do a column.
          His story Dirda Ghostland in the comments below was excellent (as always).

          I think some writers are “of their time” and don’t hold up when their generation is gone.
          Books By the Foot gets so many “sets” by forgotten/obsolete writers.
          If you merit a set – you should be eternal, right?
          O Henry, 19th c French writers in translation, Marryat, Henty, Sabatini …

          Shaw and Mailer were linked to WW2 and that generation is mostly gone? (Remember what a huge deal Ancient Evenings was?)

          Catch 22? Not so funny anymore
          Hunter Thompson is still booming.

          I personally try to “Force” some authors online even though they are poor sellers.

          Sometimes there are pleasant surprises. We’ve sold a lot of John Rhode https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Street mysteries all over the world from the hoard that was part of a story a couple months ago. For good money!
          Sometimes there is money in obscurity after all.

          Sometimes I look at old obscure fiction and wonder is this author ripe for a Dirda rediscovery (really!).

          You’re right being promoted to:
          The Modern Library and Library of America
          should grant immortality.
          I see some old M L s sometimes and wonder : “What were they thinking?!”

          Thanks Geoff.
          Great to hear from you!

  2. Joshua commented on

    Happy thanksgiving and God bless you! I love your recommendation to acquire hard copies of books that may one day be banned by the intolerant. I am also going to add my voice to the several people that have probably told you that a published book of poetry from your pen would be a welcome addition to my library. An encouraging story about how amazing wonderbook is: I picked a book off the shelf in Hagerstown the other day to find an ownership sticker that told me it used to belong to the father of the godfather of my son. I am always thankful for the greatest store ever!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is a great find!
      Amazing how books can link us through time.

      I really appreciate your comment on the writing.

      People putting out their poetry can be problematic. That’s why they’re almost always at the end!…I’m so glad you liked it and took the time to write

  3. Dear Mr. Roberts: As always, many thanks for taking the time to post. This entry, in particular, is a masterpiece journey. I encourage all to savor it slowly, perhaps even return to some parts as I intend to. I’m going to leave it at that.

    With very little exception, I’ve held your staff at all three locations in high regard through the years. I’ve always loved overhearing some of the young people banter about as I scrutinize the goods. I often hear so many echoes of myself back in the day. I can’t say enough how great it would have been if I had the opportunity to work in a WB-type environment as my first job. I do hope they appreciate WB as a great first exposure to the world of work. So here’s a tip of the hat to your front-line staff, they represent you well. And yes, I’ve always favored the folks at Gaithersburg, that’s just me. Even today’s group is top notch, no exception.

    I try not to dwell upon the prices I paid for compact discs at places like the immortal Tower not too many years ago. To my never ending dismay, it’s still amazing to me the collapse in interest in the compact disc by today’s fickle buying public. I get it that every entertainment delivery system eventually becomes obsolete, but this is happening re the cd way too soon! Many deep archival dive reissues that were never undertaken are likely to remain undone. Much appreciation is due to companies like RCA/Columbia Sony Music because they were consistently first rate on the projects they undertook. I don’t see the profit in continuing, and alas, I see very little interesting new legacy stuff out there. (I am also aware of the Universal fire from a few years back, so a lot of stuff has been allegedly destroyed thereby limiting what might have been.) The upside of the abandonment of the cd is that I often find the buying field all to myself, so that if I decide later I want something, it might still be on the shelf. The downside is that I often encounter the same, stale merchandise in the stores. Such has been the case in your record room at Gaithersburg, in particular. I do continue to find decent turnover and new adds in Frederick. Just wondering if the new reality might necessitate adoption of something like color coding the merch and rotating stangnant items to another store or wherever after a period. I realize this might be somewhat more labor intensive (note how I already complemented the staff), but I’m sure stuff that doesn’t sell defeats the whole purpose of what it’s all about for the customers and staff alike.

    Hope I haven’t overstepped, I can only reflect upon what makes stepping into a store exciting, the anticipation I’ll find something I hadn’t expected.

    Know that your great stores are always appreciated. Steve R

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much for reading and writing!

      We need feedback like this to improve.

      Gaithersburg lacks an LP/Media specialist.


      I’m sending someone down to day with the van swap to cull .

      We will get the stock there freshened asap.

      Please follow up here or email me directly.


  4. Jeff S. commented on

    Thanks for this blog, the honesty of which has been a consolation in 2020.

    A few weeks ago I was in your Frederick store and overhead a conversation in the next row: An adult had come into the store because for the first time in her life, she wanted to read fiction, and she intended to start with The Lord of the Rings. One of the young women who works at the store was briefly startled, but she didn’t treat the customer like an oddity. Enthusiastic but sensitive, she helped her locate the whole series in one volume and made sure the copy was in good condition. The customer had a remarkable first-time experience in a bookstore, and I predict she’ll be back. You employ some really good people.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much.
      I will pass that on.
      I really appreciate your taking time to read the stories and comment as well.

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