Bookselling 101

Odd People

August is in decline.

It rose to the 15th and 16th. Today, the 17th, has it on the downslope.

71 degrees out. 72 inside. The windows are closed to keep the forest humidity out. It rained and rained last night.

It is quiet at 6 a.m. The dogs are away being babysat. Not needing to tend to them leaves a void in my morning routine.

I did a bit of cleaning and scrubbing last night. I went through a pile of papers that had sat atop a desk awaiting filing for many years.

I dread most paperwork.

I found some interesting documents.

My business is paper. Books and ephemera and other things made of paper. The business side of Wonder Book is paper. And digital. But still lots of paper.

Thank goodness that for decades the “business” part of the company is managed by others—in house and, professionally, extramurally. Everything is tracked and filed by people who are much more organized than I.

I met with the lawyer yesterday. I will meet with the accountant tomorrow. Bankers too.

I have spent more time archiving what passes for verse in my life. Caches of scraps of paper are slowly being transposed into digital files. I did it last weekend. Saturday and Sunday after work, I went into the dockyard with paper and laptop and dogs.

Transposed may not be an entirely apt use of the word. Transcribed might be more accurate.

But in some ways, going from wood-based paper to electrons is almost akin to setting it to music. The words can now fly anywhere in the world. Lines can be lifted and shifted. Lines can be lifted and lost. I do print out “permanent” papers copies. I file one at home—in a milk crate. Another at the office—in a milk crate. The crates are filling.

Maybe it is like transposing the words to a new key.

The Key of Me… lol.

I threw myself into the breach yet again last weekend. The incoming flood of books continues. There is nothing for it but to face the onslaught and get as many as I possibly can on their way to better places.

A box of random books is chaos. After I have winnowed through them, they are on their way to order.

I wage a continuous battle against the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

But old books seem to have a mind of their own. They like entropy.

Last weekend was very strenuous. I was very tired and sore at the end of Saturday and Sunday. I tallied my results.

I counted over 180 boxes and tubs I’d filled. The boxes would go to the stores. The tubs would go to data entry to be put online.*

* A few of the tubs had a sheet of paper atop them to be taken to Madeline to research and price. She will send some to the store in boxes. Others will go to data entry in yellow plastic tubs. She will determine the price of each.

Boxes and Tubs

Then there were the carts. To make the boxes and tubs, I sat on a stool before 50 or more carts. The 6-shelf, 3-foot, metal carts were laden with books for my inspection. When I finished a cart, the books remaining on it were, in my opinion, better off being rolled to Books by the Foot. I determined these were too over populated or too unpopular to warrant the human and mechanical energy costs of putting them online or taking them to the store.

So, about 50 partial carts were sent to be sorted into the many styles and genres we offer on

Then there were the hapless ones. Damaged, defective, tainted or just impossible to market or give away.

That’s a lotta books. And that’s just me alone. In about 14 hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Man versus B.E.*

* Book Entropy

The “hapless” books?

They get tossed into giant corrugated tubs called Gaylords. These tubs sit atop pallets. The pallets are lifted by metal forks and taken to the big trailer backed to Dock 5. The trailer holds 42 Gaylords. 2 bottom rows of 11. Stacked atop them are 2 rows of 10. The final pair on the tail of the truck are left as singles. The most recent load I have numbers for was 35,590 pounds.

That is almost 18 tons of material that we keep out of the landfill. And it gets recycled into new paper. We often fill up a trailer a week.

We “recycle” far more tonnage of books as books, however.

A respected colleague recently quipped publicly:

BIG SHOUTOUT to Wonder Book—a hugely valuable part of the America used-book ecosystem!

We are a microclimate in an ecosystem!

That was so cool.

I’ve been identified in past years—fortunately some years ago—as just a “megaseller.”

Accused might be more apt. My mom would have told me in her Alabama accent, “They jes jealous.” She had a tough life. Orphaned as a toddler by the Spanish Flu, she spent time in orphanages and foster homes.

Clif was off Friday and Monday, so it was up to me to load and stack the Gaylords with the forklift.

Those are each about 1000 pound of paper and wood.

Sunday evening I was beat.

I poured myself a couple of inches of Irish whiskey into a crystal tumbler. Neat.

Irish Whiskey

I wandered across the vast building to the east side, the dockyard.

The dogs were fenced. I sat at a black metal table and transferred some old verse to the laptop.

I scrawled “Done 8/2021” on the manuscript to assure myself I would never wonder if that piece of paper had been recorded or not.

I guess I’m repeating myself. I blame the Irish whiskey.

Bookselling 101

I convinced Annika she should take the CABS course for beginning book people. It didn’t take much convincing. She was thrilled.

It is fun to see people excited about the book trade.

When class was in session this week, she would draw the big black curtain across the entrance to the “Photo Room.” She has a table in there where she does research on books sent to her by me and a couple of others here.

I popped in a few times to eavesdrop on the Zoom course for a few minutes.

It was fun to see familiar faces explaining the ins and outs of the old book biz.

Those teachers should be praised for spending the time and effort to help future generations get a good foundation.

If you want to get into bookselling or get to the “next level” of bookselling or you just want to see the method to the madness or you just love old books, sign up for the next course of study. Maybe they’ll start doing it twice a year.

CABS… Do it!

For me, it is too late.

When I was getting into the trade, there weren’t no schools.

At best, you’d apprentice with an experienced bookseller.

My first mentor was more of a merchant focused on service than a “bookie.” But he gave me a great foundation and set great standards for me.


No formal schoolin’.

I attended the School of Hard Knocks. The path to that school was steep and uphill coming and going! The snow was always 5-feet high when there weren’t hurricanes.

This new generation has things so soft.

The internet for example.

And comfy chairs.

And thinking phones.

And even mechanical pencils, I bet. I had to sharpen mine. By hand!

Coincidentally, last weekend I came across Charles Everitt’s The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter—A Rare Bookman in Search of American History. (Little Brown 1952.) It was on a cart and stuck to my hand when I picked it up. I know I have a copy of it somewhere. Maybe a couple. None signed though.

Be careful if some amateur offers you a signed copy. He died just before publication.

I first read it long ago when I was a novice bookseller.

‘Wow! Such things would certainly never happen in modern times. [the 1980s] They would certainly never happen to ME!’ I thought then.

Well, they have.

Not the Washington manuscripts or Poe pamphlets or one-of-a-kind…

Well, that last part is not true. I’ve found a lot of one-of-a-kind things. I’ve recorded many of them in these stories. Though as Everitt states, “rarity does not equate value.”

Some items belong in obscurity. For eternity.

He was a curmudgeonly fellow. An old-school bookseller who would throw you out of his shop.

When he acquired some theosophical manuscripts at auction for a few dollars and the word got out, “a six-foot stranger came in the store and downstairs to the rare book department.”

“I hear you have some theosophical papers. How much do you want for them?”

“…I’ll let you have the lot for a thousand dollars.” [a vast sum back then]

“What? Trying to blackmail me?” shouted the stranger.

“Do you see those steps?” I shouted back. “You get up them in a hurry, you son of a bitch, or I’ll throw you up.”

Ahhh, the good old days…

Actually, Everitt continues. The man returns and agrees to pay Charles’s price on the condition that he will tear up all the letters in his presence.

Apparently, there was a lot of inflammatory correspondence by and about some of the early theosophy leaders, like Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant.

True story? Hmmm…

Actually, I’ve known some screamers in my times. I’m not going to name any names—but many experienced readers know the kind of people I’m speaking of.


Nowadays, you might get sued.

Or canceled.

I’ve felt unwelcome in some shops, but I’ve never been threatened or thrown out…

Treasure Hunter is a great book—for booksellers and booklovers alike.

You’ll be underlining or extracting quotes throughout.

“…fat books just fill the shelves and the thin ones bring you the money…”

(I’ve been accused of too great a fondness for “big” books. Guilty as charged.)

As with all great books, you’ll learn a lot about people—timeless things.

He seems to have been a crusty old b******d when he wrote the memoir, as well as a crusty b*****d his entire life.

I’ve known plenty of booksellers like that.

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have any copies online, but Via Libri is showing plenty.

It is Thursday afternoon.

Annika is graduating from school soon. I might go in and peek at the closing ceremonies.

I told her I want to see her grade since I’m paying for the course and attendance.

I’m kidding. I doubt there is any grading. My costs are an investment in Wonder Book’s future, Annika’s (she may open her own business someday—I hope not soon) and the future of the books here—we are so hopelessly behind in evaluating and marketing.

I know she knows more than me already.

Reading Charles Everitt’s book, it is clear he had great instincts.

That’s the kind of thing that can’t be taught.

Well, that’s not exactly true for everyone.

It can be like Yoda’s instruction. Or Obi-Wan’s.

Let yourself go and be guided by the “force”—the rare book “force.” Try it. You might have the “gift.”

Charles writes anecdotes like a pile of junk papers falling over and a tiny treasure being revealed.

Like the rare first separate printing of the first detective story:

In 1843, Poe had the idea to print a series of pamphlets with his stories entitled The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe. He printed only one, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” oddly collected with the satirical “The Man That Was Used Up.” It sold for 12 and a half cents. This version included 52 changes from the original text from Graham’s, including the new line: “The Prefect is somewhat too cunning to be profound,” a change from the original “too cunning to be acute.”


It happens to me.

Sometimes I don’t know why I open a book. It just kinda tells me to.

Just a few minutes ago, I walked in to a sorter’s station. The space is probably 35-feet long and 14-feet wide. It is mostly filled with books. She had left for the day. I was just nosing about. She has 6 pallets of boxes behind where she stands. We call them “raw” boxes. Boxes of books bought at the stores or house calls. The “sorters” have great perks here. They get the first look at most things. She goes through those boxes and sorts every book she touches to a fairly complex formula we have developed over the years. The books go from boxes through her hands into yellow plastic tubs. Or on carts. Or…

Chaos into order.

There are probably 70 or more boxes exposed in that row—at or near the top of each pallet’s pile. Walking past the boxes—looking cursorily, I lifted a random lid—an old baseball guide caught my eye.

Sports Box

I could have just pulled that out and moved on. But I stopped and opened the flap of the box more.

This Side of Paradise

All right. It’s a reprint, but still… it got my heart pounding.

All the really hard work I did this week with lawyers and accountants and bankers… and F Scott Fitzgerald just appears. In jacket.

Well, who knows? I didn’t look in many other boxes today. Maybe none. I don’t remember.

Well, it could be I’m neglecting the 999 out of 1000 that I open and find nothing.

Who knows?

Maybe Charles Everitt’s memory was sometimes faulty too.

It is fun.

It IS treasure hunting.

It is making something out of nothing.

It is rescuing that which would otherwise be lost.

I’ll wander over to Annika’s space and watch her final session.

There’s a virtual cocktail party I understand.

But I’m not invited.

And I’m no crasher.

Lorne Bair, a real hero in the nurturing of the “next ones”, mentioned John Gach as I walked in.

I really must write my Gach story here.

I’ve put it off for so long.

It is so big. And difficult. And painful.

His influence and support changed my booklife.

After his death, it fell to me to buy and remove his enormous collection—his hoard. That also changed my booklife. (I still don’t think Wonder Book has broken even on the deal. 9 years later there are still untouched pallets here labeled “Gach raw.”)

Gach Collection

Cheers to the CABS graduates and their instructors.

Friday morning

My iPhone started screaming at 5 a.m.

It was a public service announcement that it was raining and there might be flash floods.

When it stopped screaming like the alarms you hear in movies during a nuclear meltdown, I could indeed hear the rain on the roof.

I am awake now, so I picked up the laptop to try to make sense of the past week.


Clif was unwell, and I had to perform his duties. Organizing the vans. Delivering books and supplies to two stores. Driving the big rumbling 24-foot truck from the Frederick shop to the warehouse. Backing it up til it bumps jarringly against the rubber bumpers attached to the building at Dock 6.

I had to get in the forklift and stack more Gaylords of pulp in the trailer.


We were close enough to being full, so I texted the recycler that we’d need a new trailer Wednesday. He will also supply 42 wooden pallets and 42 Gaylords.

That afternoon, I had to go to the lawyer’s office and review pages of tedious documents. All paper.

I like my lawyer and accountant and dentist. But visiting them is almost invariably painful and expensive.

So, Monday went not as planned.

When I got home, I opened a bottle of white wine. I went out into the beds and weeded. The woods keep weeds down pretty well, but there is the invasive Japanese Stilt Grass. I need to pull it out before it goes to seed. Otherwise, there will just be more next year.


Contractors were coming with a bobcat to spread the huge pile of wood chips the tree people left when they cut down the big oak that was threatening to crush the house. They would also re-grade a section of gravel lane I share with my nearest neighbor—a quarter mile away. (That may be being washed out by the rain falling right now.)

I had to make sure everything was clear for them to work.

I’d asked the tree people to cut the oak into 24-inch lengths for firewood. I hadn’t thought about how thick the trunk was near the ground. You can calculate the weight of a cylinder using density times length times diameter times Pi R squared. (I’m making that up.)

Or you can just weigh it.

They were huge.

I couldn’t lift some of the pieces into the high bed of the pickup.

If a bookseller hurts his (or her) back, he is sunk. Unless you’re a one-book-at-a-time bookseller.

(Note to CABS graduates—there will almost certainly be boxes of books in your future.)

I’m so glad I thought to ask them to use the bobcat to get the wood into the “barn” for me to split.

After visits to a couple of the stores, I settled in to review bank statements for the last couple of months. After that painful exercise, I went out into the warehouse and sorted books from carts. That “work” is pleasure.

“If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Not exactly true. Every love affair has rocky patches. Just like my lane!

When I got home, I decided to relieve the stress by splitting wood. The cradle for the splitter is only just above knee-high. I figured with the giant pieces of wood I could lift/roll them onto a wooden wine crate. From there, it would be just a short hoist onto the cradle. It worked.

I only strained one shoulder.



The second POD filled with boxes of books from Crozet, Virginia was delivered. I’d only finished the last from the first load over the weekend. I’m doing them all myself because I am personally “invested” in the old doctor’s books. I’m sending a lot of great titles to the stores. The condition, however, often not so great.


I had a morning appointment with the accountant.

There are a lot of things going on with the new warehouse project and the possible sale of the other property.

Three of my bankers had set up a lunch meeting. We met at the fancy Tasting Room. It was marvelous. Almost pre COVID. They quipped it was the first time they’d worn suits in nearly 18 months. They made all kinds of suggestions and recommendations—many I didn’t understand.

Halfway through, a familiar and missed face appeared.

Damon—the bartender/alchemist from the COVID-closed Volt restaurant—greeted me warmly. He’d disappeared when all the restaurants closed in March 2020. I’d thought of him often and missed his creations.

“I’m here now. Mondays and Wednesdays.”

Happy news.

The skies opened, and I wondered how long lunch would last. (I had poached Icelandic Cod, by the way.) But the storm blew over, and under blue skies, I walked the ancient Market St to a bank to make a deposit.

As I was returning to my car, I saw a woman approaching on the sidewalk some distance away. It was just the two of us on the brick-paved sidewalk.

My estate attorney!

She is wonderful. So genial that meeting with her to plan my death is not painful. We greeted each other warmly. I was reminded that I hadn’t followed up on a packet of documents she’d sent in May or June.

I promised I would. And I will. My will. It’s time to tweak it. Things have changed.

That evening to relieve the stress, I split the rest of the wood. I now have more than enough for 2021 and 2022. Probably enough to get through the first half of 2023.

But now I can cut more—to relieve the stress. I enjoy that kind of work. And providing my own heat. And the low double-digit electric bills.


Clif was off.

I again needed to assume his duties.


Clif is off.

There is travel in my future.

I’ll go to a couple of stores today.

There were some interesting book finds this week in addition to the surprise Fitzgerald. (A book doesn’t have to have great value to excite me.)

Over the weekend, something made me open a dreary but attractive early 20th century biography of Danton.

Danton and the French Revolution

It is a “quadfecta.” (I think I just coined that as a bibliographical description.) It has 4 cool things going for it—all in one book.

A banquet was held in Philly in honor of the author. I suppose the book was given out to attendees. It had a signature sheet and menu bound in. It was a first edition. 1908.

AND the opening cocktails were Martinis, Manhattans and Bronxes. This early reference lends credence that the Bronx martini was invented in Philadelphia. Note it was also the first cocktail Bill W. recalled on his road to ruin and before his redemption as the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Then there was this odd book on Odd People—featuring cannibals.

Odd People

A nice copy of Le Carre.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

A cat who tried to write a book.

The Little Cat Who Tried to Write a Book

(Which will work into the next Round and Round book tail. Tale.)

Hearing Lorne mention John Gach sent me to dig out some of the books I found on the floor of his basement. (Many of which were sadly stuck to the floor due to a water leak.)

And a tub of Stephen King Newsletters from the 1980s. Published in Bangor, Maine. A complete run.

Stephen King Newsletter

A few of the many autographed books we “rescue.”

One is obvious.

Can you guess the other two?

Autographed Books

There were plenty of other finds.

But I don’t want to bore you.

One addendum.

A reader sent me a link to a list of neologisms.

She wanted me to see a word from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.


[T]he strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

Wistful? Yes. For the visitor. But not so much for me as a proprietor. More like panic inducing.

But I suppose once upon a time I was wistful.

Maybe that was an inducement to take the leap to building that first used bookstore.

4 Comments on Article

  1. Tawn commented on

    I’ll play….

    Edward R. Murrow
    This I Believe


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      The other is a chef

  2. Geoffrey Hughes commented on

    Chuck, I’m guessing it’s mostly your modesty and self-professed shyness that has deprived CABS students of your expertise. Sure, you’re long removed from the daily fundamentals of what most “beginners” need to know, but it’s all there in those synapses. Besides, “teaching” is the learning experience par excellance. Best to Clif; hope he’s on the mend.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      CABS is entry level
      I dont use some of the traditional tools
      Dont need to in my model
      Some things would slow things down with no benefit other that dotting i s and crossing t s
      What Annika learned will the approach from the traditional side.

      Maybe it is the Nouveau Traditional side as Charlie Everitt was far more seat of the pants than I

      Well, in some cases ….lol

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