The Bluebird of Happiness

Books from London

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

I am glad I pushed myself to plant all the tomato and pepper plants I’d bought a few weeks ago. I failed to plant them before the London trip. It is so late. Those I planted in early May are already setting fruit.

I also put in a lot of seeds—sunflowers, beans, nasturtium… Before COVID, I would give a friend a sunflower every day. During the plague, the friend disappeared indoors and has not emerged since so far as I know.

Planting so late! That is poor gardening.

But the downpours we had all afternoon and evening will get them off to a good start.

Just as I was finishing, Chris Kline pulled in to drive me to the bankers. I think he wanted to be sure I’d be on time. But perhaps he just wanted to chat on the way. I dashed inside and washed my hands and came right back out. We headed downtown in his BMW. Chris has always had cool cars. I first met him in 1983 when I bought out my friend, mentor and silent partner, Carl Sickles. We had opened the Book Alcove of Frederick in September 1980. We each put in $1000. That covered the first and last month’s rent on an 1800-square-foot space on West Patrick Street. It also paid for a pickup truckload of #2 8-inch pine shelving to build the first bookcases.

When I was ready to go out on my own a couple of years later, Chris negotiated the lease for a new and larger space about a quarter mile further west on West Patrick St. The landlord was a refugee from the Iranian revolution. His family fled when the Ayatollah took over. They’d brought at least enough money with them to build this new little strip center. I have had some crazy landlords over the years, but Faroush may have been the worst.

With him, EVERYTHING was negotiable. Every word in the lease contract we’d both signed was negotiable—from his side.

“Don’t worry. We will feex it!”

We muddled through with him as a constantly interfering landlord. It was a profound relief when he sold out to a Greek who was a great landlord and person.

Today’s deal will be thousands of times larger than that little 1980 retail lease.

Chris parked us in a spot in one of his buildings downtown, and we crossed West Patrick St to Frederick’s only skyscraper. 7 stories! The view west from the 6th floor conference room was stunning.

Frederick View

That is the west side of the town I have worked in for 42 years. West Patrick is directly below. My current Frederick store location and the previous two would be visible far to the west just before the South Mountain range, but for all the trees in Baker Park and buildings beyond. We moved into our current one in 1990. My home is further north, a few miles at the top of that ridge invisible in the forest.

Scott the senior VP sat across from us. Brian the president was on speakerphone from Chicago where the last of his 6 children was getting married.

They both praised my business acumen and Wonder Book’s growth and stability.

I wasn’t sure it was me they were talking about. I still don’t understand a lot of things that have happened over the decades. I am just a bookseller. I have just chased more and more books each year. Actually, it has been as much a case of the millions of homeless books chasing me for many years now.

They said the board had met about this loan, and it was a unanimous decision.

The atmospheric numbers made my eyes roll back in my head.

Why am I doing this?

Well, it is something to keep me busy. It is different. It will be a legacy. I will have actually “built” something in my lifetime.

Why not?

Thursday, June 23

It is a silent morning. The windows are closed against damp. The forest outside my window is muted with translucent gray mist and fog. The forest canopy, which I know is a lush brilliant verdant, is now more gray than green.

Fairy weather for certain.

It will be a cool Thursday. High 72. Cloudy.

I am getting moody again. Damn it. May was so much fun. And then it wasn’t.

I had to go out to the accountant and sign some documents. Then onto the engineering firm to sign a “mylar” site plan for the “city.”

Warehouse Plan

I also needed to bring 2 checks. One for $5 and one for $75. I laughed.

“$5. It will cost more than that to deposit it.”

So far, we have spent mid 6 figures on just the planning and permitting as well as architecture, engineering…

If all goes well, we just might break ground in July. If…

It has been a week of appointments. I saw my doctor on Monday. The numbers are all good, he said. I meant to ask his opinion on a voluntary procedure. To lose 15 years. Or not to lose. That is the question.

Tuesday, I had to go to my annual dentist appointment up in Pennsylvania. Everything was ok. I have all my teeth. But they “want to keep an eye” on one molar. It might be cracking. No more chewing on ice cubes, I guess.

Wednesday was the bank meeting in the morning. That afternoon, I went to the eye doctor. Everything seems fine there, but I may need a procedure on one eye if it gets difficult to see at night. I thought it was cool that I was still able to read all the numbers and letters that got smaller and smaller. (Unless I screwed up, and the technician didn’t tell me.) The doctor told me this would likely be the last time I would see him. He will have retired when I return next year. That saddened me. He has been so good. I had one of those problems that had no symptoms but could have caused sudden blindness. He diagnosed the problem and relieved the pressure with a few bright laser flashes in each eye. No surgery. No pain.

When I stepped outside, the sky opened and long strands of sky to earth lightning bolts lit the horizon. My eyes were dilated, which made it all that more weird. The dry cleaner is across the street, so I went and dropped a dozen cotton shirts off along with a stack of wire hangers for them to reuse. The wife had told me last visit I shouldn’t leave my shirts so long as they were going out of business sometime. When I handed my shirts to the husband yesterday, I asked about it. He didn’t reply. He just asked for my phone number and then awkwardly repeated my name from the screen in front of him. He doesn’t speak English? All these years, and I had no clue. Come to think of it, I guess he always just smiled and nodded in the background while she did all the business. I will miss them. They have always been so pleasant and reliable.

I hate when something that works so well changes.

It was still pouring rain. I didn’t want to go home, although there were plenty of chores. I decided to go downtown to the Tasting Room. I could pour out my troubles to my guru bartender Damon. I had so many good times with him at Volt where he used to tend bar—pre COVID. I went three times last week. Each time with different companions. Now I was by myself. I was glad Damon was on duty. It would have been depressing otherwise. Two perfect Old Fashioneds, some Ceviche and then home. And Damon gave me some good free advice.

My son is coming to visit, so I needed to clean up. Vacuum. Pickup. Put away. Hide. Wash. Hide.

I awoke in the wee hours, as has been my wont of late. My left hand reached round the bedding in the dark and chanced upon a small book. I had brought a little stack of anonymous small books to bed with the idea of perhaps culling some of them. I turned on the bedside light, and the book was The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes. I’d brought this home long ago with no idea why. His name had appeared in English Lit survey courses when I was young, but he just seemed so tedious and “religious” that I don’t think I ever read a word of his in any anthology.

The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes

Perhaps it was because I had seen his monument (along with Shakespeare’s) in Southwark Cathedral over the years—including a few weeks ago.

Southwark Cathedral Tomb

I decided to open it.

It fell open to page 25.

Order of Evening Prayer


The day is gone,

As day has its evening
so also has life;

Day is fled and gone,
life too is going,
this lifeless life.
Night cometh,
and cometh death,
the deathless death.

The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes

The poem is seven pages long, and I haven’t been able to find it online. I hope you can find a copy. It is beautiful.

Sometimes I wonder if my hand is guided when I need inspiration or hope. In the dark night, I spent some time with Andrewes and was given a gift. Some light in the darkness.

Thank you.

Andrewes. I did a little looking:

He is best remembered for overseeing and substantially contributing to the translation of the King James Version of the Bible (commissioned in 1604 and published in 1611.) Kurt Vonnegut (1969, Slaughterhouse Five) suggested that Andrewes was “the greatest writer in the English language,” citing the first few verses of Psalm 23 KJV as proof. Poet T. S. Eliot described Andrewes’ ability with language this way: “He takes a word and delivers the world from it. Squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning, which we should never have supposed any word to possess.”

Advice from a bartender philosopher. Advice from a man dead 400 years. All in one night.

It helps. Things are out of balance again. But there is the sweet memory of a few weeks when I felt. Felt. Alive. Nothing more.


Life has returned to normal—with some exceptions.

Last weekend was carts and carts of books. I should start keeping stats. Did I break a record?

Weekend Carts

Saturday, I went to the Tasting Room with an old friend. It had been a long time. It was a great evening, and then it was over. Again.

Sunday evening, I went to Virginia to see my younger son’s championship soccer game for the Washington Premier League. They won. He got upended in the penalty box and drew a penalty kick. He injured his shoulder and is now in a sling. But he played on the whole game and into the first overtime period when he was rested. The other team went ahead in OT, but then it was tied. They went to a PK shootout and won that 4-2. It has been over 20 years since I first coached his team. It is heartening to see him still playing and enjoying himself at a high level. He looks a little odd because he couldn’t get his arm into the championship jersey.

The game went on so long it was too late to go out for dinner.

Just home and to bed.

Tuesday was the solstice. The sun will now be returning southward along the horizon I look to each morning. In October around the equinox, the sun will rise in the gap in the forest that I can view the horizon from. It will pass through that gap a couple of weeks and then continue south into the forest.

The summer solstice usually falls between June 20 and 22 each year. This year, the solstice will occur on June 21 at 5:14 a.m. ET.

With this morning’s sunrise in Salisbury at 5:07 a.m. and sunset at 8:31 p.m., today will have the most daylight of the year at 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 34 seconds. After today, we’ll slowly start losing daylight each day until the winter solstice on December 21st.

Sunset 8:39 p.m.
Sunrise 5:43 a.m.

The sun is up for nearly 15 hours.

I transplanted some perennials into new beds below my deck. The contractor finally came through and patched it up and stained it. It is a pleasure to see the beds around my home. But there were a few patches of chaos. Why hadn’t I attended to this before? Well, it is done now. There are thousands of acres of chaos all around me. I have my little island, and that is good.

Maybe I will have a cookout. Who would I invite?

I took the mail in and went through it. I got my now regular 3 ballots for the Maryland primary. 1 for me. 2 for the couple who moved to Tennessee when I bought their house in 2009.


A friend and colleague from the southwest has been sending us boxes of culls—ostensibly for Books by the Foot. All ten boxes finally arrived over the course of a week. We staged them on a cart, so I could tally them and send a check.

Such beauty. These will certainly go to the Boutique. We transferred a few hundred books from the warehouse to the glass cases at the Frederick store. The reasoning was that there they can also be visited by the public as well as online. It is a beautiful display. Come check them out. We will see if the experiment is a success.

So many moving pieces. So much to do.

And I am so tired sometimes. So drained—seemingly for no reason.

Lighten mine eyes that I sleep not in death.
Deliver me from the terror by night,
the pestilence that walks in darkness.
Supply me with healthy sleep,
and to pass through this night without fear.

Lancelot Andrewes

It is late Thursday afternoon.

This story, this blog (such an ugly word—it sounds Orcish), is going nowhere.

I should go home and clean and put some books away.

But I don’t want to just go home tonight.

Perhaps that is the test. My test. A test to drive me to do better things. More things.

So many problems. Almost all of my own making.

So many tests.

I’ll go check in on Annika’s room. She has 2 or 3 carts of researched books for me to review. That might make this onerous day’s end better.

Annika Carts

Looks like work to me. Why the Johnny Cochran and Ten Years After books?

Oh! Cochran autographed Journey to Justice to the first African American woman Secret Service agent to serve on the presidential detail—Cheryl Tyler. And Alvin Lee & Ten Years After is signed by all three members.

Still, too much to go through this late in the day. And… I’m just not in the mood.

I wandered across the building to Ernest’s area. There was a Beatles book atop the cart that he puts things he wants me to see.

Summer of Love


Oh… It is signed by George Martin a.k.a. The Fifth Beatle.

Summer of Love

Passing another cart on my way across the building back to the office, I spied this little battered German book.

Chambersburg Book

The Destruction of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In late July 1864, General Jubal Early ordered the ransoming of the city, which is only about 20 miles north of the Mason Dixon Line. It was in retaliation for the burning of Virginia homes and businesses by a Union General Hunter. The city was no military target. It was occupied mostly by women, children and elderly men. The city refused to pay and was burned.

Chambersburg Map

The Civil War had turned into a war on civilians. George Tecumseh Sherman would enlarge this war on civilians with his March to the Sea, destroying everything in his Army’s path.

My kids went to Montessori school in Chambersburg for 9 years each. So I’m very familiar with the place.

It is Friday.

The valley below was buried in fog when I arose.

Foggy Valley

I passed books I bought in London as gifts. I guess I’ll keep them now.

Books from London

When I went to get in the truck to go down to work, a bluebird flew out of the box just above it. Then another.

Bluebird House

I put up about 20 nesting boxes years ago. I’ll order a dozen today. That would be a good and useful thing to do. That will add a day’s relevance to my life.

Next week, it becomes July. I need to look at the calendar. No appointments, I think. Maybe I’ll take on a house call. Someone not far away is trying to sell us a rare set of Galileo. Maybe I will go look at them in person.

Or perhaps I’ll go see Ginevra de Benci at the National Gallery. And then head over to the Folger and commune with Shakespeare.

This summer was going to be different. Let’s see what I can do about it.

4 Comments on Article

  1. Andy Moursund commented on

    Chuck, I’ll bet that jacketed copy of Capitalism and Freedom is going to be worth a lot more money than your signed Johnny Cochran book. Capitalism and Freedom is a cult book supreme in certain circles, and jacketed first editions are scarce as the proverbial hen’s teeth. I got $2000 from a dealer for my copy, and that was many years ago.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Yes, sadly that Friedman has damp staining and damage to the jacket – but we know it is there!
      I dont know why I thought the
      Cochran was interesting. His world and the Secret Service were widely disparate I guess -in part.

      Great to hear from you Andy!

  2. Heather Ryan commented on

    I’ve only just discovered your blog. Very correct; is a horrid word! A word that has always jarred me! Also, only recently did I discover your website due to my shameful overenthusiasm for the Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly. I insisted on starting from the beginning, even though my retiring dentist gave me 3 of the (signed) later series editions! So, luckily, my bit of ferociousness about reading chronologically, led me to your Wonderbook website, and presently, your captivating “blog”. Thank you so much for allowing me to swim in your words. A brief respite from demands here on our farm.
    Heather Ryan
    White Hall, MD

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I’m so glad you discovered both.
      You should consider a trek to Frederick see the store (and the warehouse – by appointment).
      The Bosch books are great!
      Hope you read more here – and from the website.
      In July it will be five years of “book stories” – with never a Friday missed!
      Please write more if you have time and if there ever is a problem w the website PLEASE give us feedback.

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