Book Dreams in the Plague


The Plague has altered my sleeping habits.

I am sleeping twice as much.

I don’t get twice as much rest. In fact, I no longer have any idea how many hours I’m asleep.

Or awake.

Or in the crepuscular state in between.

I think I am getting less rest. I’m sure I am.

I go to bed. Awaken at 2, 3,4. Then try to return to sleep after doing…things.

Often the books call to me in the night.
In my bed miles away I hear them whisper: “Come to us.”
I hear their whispers far off in the valley below.

Lonely. Needy.

Resigned to wait, wait, wait.

Yearning, though.

Each wanting a little bit of me—”just a moment for me—please.”

And I am drawn by their quiet calls, my thoughts and heart drawn down the mountain to where they wait.

Millions waiting, waiting, waiting.

It is the leitmotif in my life now.




If I am not there among them, I often lie there in my woolen nest thinking of them.

What wakes me from the first sleep? I don’t know sometimes. Suddenly my eyes are open. Often they open to blackness. There are no streetlights where I live. No road for cars to wander by with headlights. If it is cloudy or foggy, the distant lights down in the valley are obscured, as are the stars and celestial nightlights above.

Black, black, black.

I reach over and touch the atomic clock on the nightstand. It glows to life—a muted blue—and I can read the numbers telling me just where in the night I lie.

(Ummm…the clock is NOT atomic. It somehow communicates via the ether with the real Atomic Clock. My clock is NEVER fast or slow. It is just right. Always.)

Sometimes I curl up and seek the second sleep right away. I recite a prayer mantra, and if I do it long enough, I return to that other life. The life I dream.

Usually though, I rise and get a drink of water. Often I’ll pick up the iPhone and look at emails or Instagram or news sites or search for some bio or other data.

Thursday morning, the phone awakened me at 3. It was the alarm company advising me that a motion detector went off in the Gaithersburg Wonder Bookstore.

“Did the door get breached?”


“Ok. Probably some hanging paper sign moved in a draft of air and set it off. Cancel it.”

[Gaithersburg… Wednesday we were told the father of one of the staff had tested positive. I think that is the closest degree of separation I’ve had since the Plague started in March. I know no one personally who has had it. No close friends or relations have anyone close they know who has had it.]

The phone call from the alarm company made me “awake.” I picked up an Elizabeth Daly first edition that lay on the bed beside me. I started a new one. I’d finished one the night before. It is her first book. Unexpected Night. She wrote it when she was 60 years old in 1938. It is a beautiful book. Gorgeous dust jacket. I read for…a bit. Then rose to make sure I had closed the garage door downstairs. I’d done a bit of yard work last evening and something nagged at me. There’s some food stored in the garage. The bears are not hibernating just yet. They usually go to their dens around Thanksgiving.

I padded downstairs and gingerly opened the inside door to the garage. I had left the light on. I peeked in and saw the exterior door was shut.

No bears.

Back up to bed and into my nest of heavy woolen blankets.

I looked at the Instagrams and decided to post some pictures I’d taken during the day. IG is the only social media I participate in. It is fun. And innocent. No one slams you. Political pictures are rare. If you don’t like an image, you just move on…

It is also a kind of game. You hope to collect new “Followers” attracted to your type of pictures. #BooksBytheFoot is close to 12,000! #WonderBookAndVideo 6,200. My own site #MerryAndPippinLOTR is a sad 750. No one “likes” me…LOL.

At some point, I drifted off and got my second sleep of the night. I awoke to dawn’s light. Daylight Savings happened last weekend and sunrise is now back to around 6:30. I looked at my phone and saw the sun would rise in just a few minutes. I rolled across the bed to the window to get a better view. This may be the last sunrise I see for nearly 6 months.


The sunrise is disappearing—becoming extinct—in my personal context.

The sun is moving south for the winter. Loigcally, I know it will rise behind the trees of the forest from my windows until it goes as far south as it can. At the Winter Solstice, it stops and begins its return trip. Around the Spring Equinox, the sunrise will slip into my morning view again.

How do I know this if I can’t see it? I had some good teachers long ago.

What will the next 6 months bring?

Nothing good, I fear.

The election this year just added to the depression. Politics is such a dirty business.


Wednesday I was numb. And sad. And angry. I didn’t watch the results on Tuesday. I waited until late Wednesday morning to look.

But here in this story, we are still on Thursday morning! Around 8am, I got a text that no one wanted to work at the Gaithersburg store. Even though no employee has yet tested positive. In an “abundance of caution,” we decided to close that bookstore and disinfect until…

The Plague closes that which never closes.


I decided I should do this dirty work—the cleaning. I asked Annika if she would ride down with me. She was assistant manager there until recently. She has keys and a fob to turn off the alarm. I’m not sure my key would work—it’s been so long since I’ve needed it. I don’t know if my fob would turn off the alarm. I don’t know how to get into their office.

So we headed down with a tub of towels and disinfectant and signs saying we were closing… “To sanitize…”

We wiped down the counters and break room and phones and screens and door handles and office and…

We left the empty van we’d driven down from Frederick. I decided to risk leaving the rear doors open for people to drop off books if they want. Vanessa agreed to come in later and lock it up.

One guy was already putting in a dozen or more grocery bags of books when I came out to ready the van we were bringing back.

We will see if anyone tests positive and decide from there. The staff at that store is extremely serious about masks and disinfecting.

We all are. Everywhere.


Am I awake? Asleep. Or somewhere in between.

I think I know… but…


Back to that dreadful time.

As I said, an absolutely miserable vibe all day long.

I wandered about in a daze.

At some point, I recall heading to the Frederick store to pick up the filled 24-foot box truck and drop off an empty van.

The store had people in it, but the mood was subdued.

I walked around “my” bookstore. We first moved into that location in 1990. 30 years ago.

It is a good shop. 11,000 square feet of books, books, books. From rare antiquarian to cheap kids’ books.

Nose to tail bookselling.

I should be proud.

I am.

It’s just that I’ve “done” this. What is next?

I dreamed my way back to the sprawling warehouse.

Was I awake?

I arrived and stood helpless amongst the millions of books I shepherd here.

An infinite flock spread in all directions.

They are sheltered and confined by the three acres of roof and walls.

It is they that call to me in the night. Sleeping or nearly sleeping.

I wonder if I could call to them. Summon them to find their own ways in this mad world.

I can no longer do that for them all.

Maybe like Glendower in Shakespeare I could summon “spirits from the vasty deep.”

There are those this very day making similar vows that they have this power in this mad world.

Henry IV, Part I:

Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come, when you do call for them?

No. They won’t come.

“O, while you live, tell truth and shame the devil.”—Hotspur finishes.

I am so glad my schooling was not by political zealots.

I’m sorry for the generations who have been taught—not history—but modern interpretations of what history means to the ideologue “teaching”…in relation to today’s “context.”

The books around here define me.

As long as I live and breathe, I will come down here from the mountain and do what I can with as many as I can.

I have come here EVERY day since the Plague hit last March. EVERY DAY but two. Those two days, I went to visit bookseller friends in southern Pennsylvania and visit their flocks of books.

Actually, it was only 1 full day away. I worked Friday before leaving. I worked Sunday upon returning.

Still Wednesday

That dreadful day.

Clark had commissioned a videographer to create some ads for Books by the Foot many, many months ago. COVID delayed all that, but in October he came and shot over two days.

This is just a first draft of one of the ads. There may be some text errors. But I thought you’d like to see something upbeat.

I think this ad (and there are a few others) is pretty exciting.

I didn’t think I expressed that excitement when I first viewed this ad and the other drafts. Toward the end of the day, I made a special trip to Clark’s office and stuck my masked face in:

“Be sure to tell him the ads are very cool.”

Then I slunk out and went home.

The day before, I had brought in the rest of the potted plants. There are now 50 or so. Some are VERY heavy.

Why so many? I don’t kill them very often. I specialize in plants that are hard to kill, plants that thrive on neglect.

Last spring, a friend who reads these stories learned of my interest in cacti and succulents and sent me a big box of specimens from her semi-tropical yard. I heeled them into a garden that had rich loamy soil, and they all rooted and grew happily. With hard freezes coming soon, I’ve been digging them up and potting them. So my indoor plant population has exploded!

I brought the cast iron wood rings out of the barn and set them onto the porch where potted plants had spent most of COVID. I loaded them with firewood. Having dry firewood close at hand is always a good idea.

Wood Stove

This week began…somewhere.

Maybe last Saturday.

I arrived with Merry and Pip (my two Jack Russells who usually spend weekends at the warehouse with me.)

Larry had dropped off a load of books late at night.

Saturday's Load

It was cold all weekend.

Books, books, books.

Saturday's Books

I went through the rest of my friend Barbara Mertz’s (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels) collection. There were a couple surprises.

Barbara Mertz's Gorey Book

I collect Edward Gorey. I collect too many things.

I lit a fire Saturday night. The forecast predicted cold nights til the middle of the week.

Sunday…more books. And rain through the middle of the day. A bookseller friend was bringing his family down from Pennsylvania for an outdoor concert at the Frederick Fairgrounds. He’s a Grateful Dead fan and followed them and their spawn bands all over the country before the Plague. He was on the road a lot before…all this. A retro band called The Dark Star Orchestra was playing. The weather and time change and the concert going into the cold dark night had him rethinking.

“You want my tickets?”

Hmmm…the Fairgrounds are just a few blocks from the warehouse.

Why not?

I had looked into this previously. This is how it works. For $250, you can drive your car in with up to 4 people. It was sold out. I knew I couldn’t find three people to accompany me, anyway.

I…I…kind felt I “should” attend a concert—the only outdoor events since…last year. The only live concert since February.


He emailed them to me.

This is how it worked.

I drove into the Fairgrounds. I was directed to a painted parking place on the grassy field. (My friend had purchased premium tickets, so I was in the second row.) The parking place to my right was vacant—for social distancing. You can put out chairs or food in your personal patch of grass.

The stage is pretty large. There’s a huge screen behind it.

I only ever went to one Grateful Dead concert. I was in my 20s. It was too crazy for me. Too many people bumping into me. Just too much…crushing.

That said, I’ve always liked the music…

It was interesting. It was cold. Everyone was warned to stay on their own plots of land. You could leave for food and beer and bathrooms, but you had to wear mask outside your “property.”

If this is the future of outdoor concerts… I dunno.

But then The Seldom Scene are performing outdoors at the Fairgrounds this weekend. I grew up on these guys. They were formed in Bethesda in the early 70s. The original 5 are all gone, but I’ve seen their current incarnation a bunch of times in recent years.

No one can imitate that “high lonesome sound” of John Duffy…he’s gone.

Maybe I’ll drive over and support them.

I’d love to hear “Wait a Minute” one more time.

I got my first “fan letter.”

Fan Letter

I often get nice comments on these stories. It was nice someone took the time to write. I can tip it into my journal.


An email dropped in with that subject line.

Dear Mr. Chuck

[Someone at the store] gave me your contact. I had 55 or do boxes of theology and philosophy books mainly bought by someone at ez storage auction where I had them. My payment was late and they sold them.

I’m trying to locate them possibly and buy them back. I thought the buyer will sell them to a bookstore for money. Are you aware of anyone wanting to sell or already having sold them to you or maybe another buyer? Any info will be helpful.

I had them for decades for my work and are very important part of my life.

Thank you!

I told him to try to find out the storage unit buyer. We go through 300,000 or more books a month.

There is no way we could track down something like.

He replied: “Please help.”

I told him we would try.

This email dropped in as well:

Hi, I have a lot of books—probably about 1000, really not sure how many. I do not want to just give them to Goodwill or Salvation Army. I actually hoped at one time to sell them. However, I have discovered how time-consuming it is to do that, ie type in the ISBN and other info, etc. Plus a number of my books are too old to have ISBN numbers. I started trying to find a place that would buy the entire lot for one money. I found that your company buys all books, regardless of what they are. I called and spoke with the person who answered my voice mail. Her name was Jessica, I think. She said she is not really the person to ask about buying books and the entire procedure.

I live in Abilene, TX and my husband and I both recently retired. We love the thought of loading as much as our car can handle in weight with my books and driving to Maryland. It would be a great way to see the country. Jessica warned that no one would look thru the books to get a good idea of what I have and would just look at what was sitting on top of the box and give a price. She warned it would be very low and certainly not worth such a drive. Well, we would understand it would not pay for the trip.

So, what advice and answers do you have for me?

That is extreme #BookRescue!

A mission!

A quest!

Driving a load of books from Abilene, Texas to Frederick, Maryland just to save them.

We will see if that happens.

We donated another few hundred cans of food to the Rescue Mission. We generate thousands every year.

Donated Food

People like to donate food to those in need. (Plus, they like the deals we offer when they donate.)


One of many things the extinct dodo bird evokes is:

A person or organization which is not willing to change and adapt.

I purchased this book from a friend on the west coast. It arrived this week.

A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begunne Anno 1626 into Afrique and the Greater Asia

It is a beautiful book.


London: Printed by William Stansby, 1634. Small folio, 7.25″ x 11.” 225p plus index. With the engraved and regular titles.

First edition.

Bound in old full calf, spine with raised bands. Chip at tail of spine (3/4″).

A very attractive copy of this lively, detail-oriented and exuberant account of Herbert’s travels to Africa and the Mid-East, made when he was barely 20 years old. Thomas Herbert (1606—1682) lived a long and exciting life, and I hope he always retained that keen eye and enthusiasm of his youth which is on display in this memorable account.

Very little seemed to have escaped his attention as he traveled, and he had a strong interest in the various languages; the text contains several glossaries and short lists of words and phrases translated from English into other tongues.

Herbert also offers his opinions as to the true identity of the man who “first found out that continent now call’d America.”

Many wonderful and some fantastic text engravings including ones of flying fish, strange Indian burial structures, boobies, various natives and native customs, a very bizarre looking penguin, etc.

Best of all is a very early depiction of the hapless and doomed Dodo bird, with an account of what a trusting creature it was, and how not everyone enjoyed eating it. (See illustration below.)

This exceptional copy has nice wide margins and a minimum amount of foxing or other distractions. With three bookplates, two of Sir Francis Fust. One is quite spectacular and is illustrated below the Dodo illustration.

There is a short ALS on Alnwick Castle letterhead (1888) tipped in at the front concerning Sir Francis and this book and the bookplates. I can’t make much of it out and gave up trying.

Alnwick Letterhead

Thomas Herbert visited Mauritius in the early 1600s and actually saw (and ate) dodos.

Mankind didn’t think in those days about extinction or the end of things that can never be brought back again.

We can’t judge them in the “context” of today.

We can learn from them, however.

The dodo couldn’t adapt to changes brought into its society. No one thought to preserve the species back then.

It is a cautionary tale about some of the threats we are facing today.

You simply cannot teach young people now that these explorers were “bad” people and be an honest teacher.

The men who killed and ate the last dodos hadn’t the context of the 21st century.

As Shakespeare’s Hotspur said: “O, while you live, tell truth and shame the devil!”


Wait a minute…

10 Comments on Article

  1. Malcolm Bell commented on


    I always enjoy your blogs.
    I had never heard of John Duffy or The Seldom Scene band.
    I wish I could get my mandolin or voice to sound like John Duffy.

    Thank you for the introduction to their music.
    I will seek copies of their LPs and Cds.

    I too, wake in the dark each night. Must be connected to Jung’s idea of Collective Unconscious during this COVID situation.

    Keep the faith,

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much for writing Malcolm!
      Be sure to seek old Country Gentlemen material as well! They were roots for the Seldom Scene.

  2. Rick Banning commented on

    Hi Chuck, yes it’s hard to be politically correct as what’s correct keeps changing. The Seldom Scene were great. Too bad I wasn’t a bluegrass fan when I was younger. More jazz and rock. Danny Gatton, for instance. Bill Evans. Dave Brubeck. So I missed hearing my Western HS/DC classmate, Tom Grey, play stand up bass with the Country Gentlemen and later the Seldom Scene in nightclubs in Georgetown. Too bad my time machine isn’t working just now. Rick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Don’t forget Roy Buchanan!
      Some great times back then.
      Thanks for writing and reminding me about Gatton (and Buchanan).
      I never got in to Root Boy Slim however…LOL

  3. DAVID Holloway commented on

    Another great entry Chuck, my wife Sarah wanted me to tell you that the Seldom Scene song you posted is one of her favorites. I do hope we aren’t all going the way of the Dodo, it’s hard not to catastrophize- when we’re living through the days of COVID.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Great to hear from you!
      The Dodo thing was two fold.
      1. A modern evocation of the term. Unwilling to change…
      2. The historical revisionism of faulting people who did what was natural 4oo years – using today’s norms.

      Of course the bird was UNABLE to change and had no place to flee.

      Maybe science can resurrect the Dodo from DNA someday. That would be cool.
      Thanks fror writing David!

      1. Thomas Wixon replied on

        Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate your contact after writing to you. Maybe you could add some clips of Patsy Cline for us sometime? What a voice.
        Keep up the vocation you have been called to. (My English teacher would cringe at my ending that last sentence with to) 🙂

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          That is so kind.
          The bookplates will go off tomorrow.
          I’ll save some older ones and send on spec when there are enough.
          Please tell others about the stories – bookish people.
          One of her ear homes is just round the corner. I’ll do something…
          Thanks so much!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so cool Norv!
      Thank you for taking the time to send it!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *