Bookselling Past, Present and Future

French Poe

Monday Morning 6 a.m.

The sun has just risen in the trees to the northeast—perhaps it is above the Mason Dixon Line in relation to me on its northward journey.

I slept pretty well. Just one break from about 3 to 4 when I read some of Horace’s Odes.

Horace's Odes

A rich man, but a poor

Fool. My few woodland acres, my clear brook,
My crops that keep faith might—though he does not know it—
Make fertile Africa’s glittering proconsul
Envious of a poet.

Calabrian bees bring me no honey-bags,
My wine lies mellowing in no Formian jar,
I own no pastures in Cisalpine Gaul
Where the thick fleeces are,

Yet nagging poverty still keeps its distsance,
And, if I needed more, you’d not refuse.
By narrowing my desires I shall enlarge
My real revenues

Horace’s Odes 3.16.

I remember exactly where I got that book. Crozet, Virginia and last summer’s massive book rescue from a doctor’s estate via a daughter’s love. She didn’t want her dad’s books to be destroyed, and we were the only option. It was a poor business decision, but a mission that made me feel like I’d done a good deed. One more checkmark on the plus side karma-wise. And it all turned out ok. It is odd. Some great books in my collection I’ve no recollection where they came from. Some humbles ones, like this, I know exactly where they came from.

There was a sweet dream after. I was traveling on a bus. The travel mates were all friendly. One fell asleep across my lap. She was British, I think. Someone I’ve never met in real life.

“You are my bed.”

It didn’t seem odd at all in the dream. Nor did the other curious events which took place on and off the bus.

My arms and shoulders are a bit warm, numb, sore. Maybe it was the 50 or so redbuds I dug up and planted last week. It rained all Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, at least I didn’t need to water them. I checked last night when I got home from work. Almost all seem to have survived the transplanting.

This is Grovette #3—2022. It is west of the bridge to the deck. 25 so far, I think. Those dark spots mark a treeling. It makes them easier to find to water.

Spots to Water

Here’s the view looking east. I need to get some “vista pruning” on the lateral branches to get more view.

Deck View

My back aches a bit as well. Maybe it was all the cart sorting and pushing. The carts can be heavy to push. 6 shelves 3 feet long can hold a couple hundred pounds of books. I need to push them through the doorway out into the loading docks. That signifies that they have been processed and can continue being pushed past Dock 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 to 14 where they will be in the Books by the Foot territory, and people there can finish going through them resulting in empty carts. Some of the carts have been worn or their wheels bumped by equipment. They can be the devil to push, as they refuse to go straight and must be wrestled to the destinations.

Then there were all those boxes I loaded from the many carts I sorted. Once filled, I labeled the boxes with sheets denoting what they are to be priced at when they reach the store they are being sent to. Did I load 100 boxes for the stores over the weekend?

Weekend Boxes

Not shown are the dozen or so yellow tubs filled with collectibles designated to go to Madeline to research. Nor is the 6-shelf cart piled high for Annika to research. Nor are the 6 or 7 carts I loaded with fixed prices written on Post Its. Those are me trying to outwit the computer. We can’t look up every book. And many books we find no comps online. Foreign titles and small regional presses can be ghosts:

“None on viaLibri. None on WorldCat.”

I fill each of the 6 shelves with stacks as high as the metal divider which separates the port and starboard sides. They are set in butt end out for efficiency—to get as many books on as possible. I stick on a Post-It with a price on each stack. All the books below it will be the same price. Carts with these books are the heaviest carts, and I push them west into Data Entry to get them out of the way.

Sunday, I was alone in the building for the last few hours. Though that used to be the norm, it is quite unusual now. COVID has convinced some that weekends are more to their introverted tastes than the bustle of weekdays when there are 50 or so milling around the building. This place is a good place for introverts to work. They are left alone to work with books. No public. No micromanaging management.

But then maybe the decision to split wood after dinner and after dark added to my aches. I hoisted the final chunks from the tree trunk I cut up a couple of weeks ago. I had a Negroni for company.


I should write a self-help book—Firewood Therapy.

But then comes the stacking. I hate stacking, and they won’t stack themselves unless some magical assistance comes along. So there is a dark side to firewood therapy.

Well, the aches will go, or they won’t. Nothing to be done but to push on. Books won’t box themselves. Plants won’t plant themselves.

Loch Lomond has been playing in my head a lot recently. My father used to sing it. He had a lovely baritone voice. I would often sing it to piano accompaniment in later years.

It always sounded like a bittersweet, light love song.

When I was in a Scotland a few weeks ago, the tour guide gave a different explanation.

Looking into it there are many opinions, but all state that it is a deeply tragic song.

A final, and even more fanciful interpretation, is that the “Low Road” refers to the traditional underground route taken by the fairies or little people who were reputed to transport the soul of a dead Scotsman who died in a foreign land—in this case, England—back to his homeland to rest in peace.

But the broken heart it kens nae second spring again’
Though the waeful may cease fra their grievin’


A brilliant spring day. Ernest is driving us on Interstate 70 west to Hagerstown. We are taking up some 8-foot tables to temporarily fill the big spaces in front of the sales counter. I’ve got some boxes of bric-a-brac to start filling the huge glass cases. And we have ordered a third one.

Wonder Book and Bric-a-Brac.

So, I’ve committed a lot of time and money and effort, as have many other key Wonder Book people, to the massive facelift at the Hagerstown store. The folks who work in that store have taken it to heart, I think. There is a different mood. It is no longer the poor relation to the northwest of the other two stores and warehouse.

I have taken to heart my “Coming Out of COVID.” I am wearing khakis and an Oxford linen shirt today. I will even tuck it in. Later. I am writing every day. I am listening to music in the house rather than talk radio and news. I am even listening to music in the car. And sometimes I put Pandora on in the phone in my pocket.

I wonder what has brought out all the frenzy of work?

I want my time to be well spent, I guess.

I transplanted another 9 or 10 trees last evening. That is 50 or 60 or even 70 this spring. Crazy… planting trees in a forest. But the redbuds and dogwoods are ornamentals, and they are going in open forest edge spots suitable for that.

And I’m going to a movie with friends late this afternoon. Warehouse Cinema across the street from the Frederick Store. Harry Potter Dumbledore. A month or two ago we sent 90 feet of old worn leather-bound books to them. We think it might have been for a launch party or similar. These movie theaters have a bar, beer taps, huge cushy reclining seats… crazy. After we are going out to dinner. 5 of us!

I don’t know if I can deal with all this social life… LOL.

Well, we are on our way back. The store looks magnificent.


Nobody knew where the keys for the glass case locks were, though. I’d left instructions yesterday to make up something so they can’t easily be lost or taken home in a pocket. We finally found one of the 4 tiny keys. I came up with this keychain.


Coming out into the world again…

Oh, and my office! I’ve been paralyzed for 5 years or so. Stuff just accumulated. This week I began getting into the piles. There was actually room in some of the glass cases. I found some great books I forgot I had.

This French Poe for example. Not very valuable, but the images are so macabre.

My old friend and mentor Ron Cozzi hand sold this to me in the warehouse parking lot 5 or 6 years ago.

I hauled out boxes and tubs of old papers to my truck. I’m sure a lot can go into the burn pile. I’ll sort the stuff out at home while listening to music.

And my chairs and couch here? There has barely been room for one to sit or, with some work, two. I’m writing supine on the old red sofa which followed me over from the old warehouse. Completely stretched out, my door locked, the lights out. No time for a nap, though. Maybe tomorrow. What exactly is a nap?

I can easily seat 7 in here now!

I hope this lasts…

Tuesday night

Dinner was wonderful. 3 Roederer champagnes split 5 ways. Great bookish company. A huge charcuterie board that looked almost like a wooden ship floating on the table. Perfectly prepared and presented entrees just like the good old days. I had a steak cooked “Pittsburgh” style. We were seated in an alcove on a mezzanine in an old Frederick Georgian storefront. The waiter was a big guy, and I have no idea how many steps he did that night. But he seemed to enjoy it. Staff seemed short, but we were patient, and the stair athlete made a LOT of money.

Ray and Jay, my friends from Egypt and Maryland, were there, and we reminisced a lot about our friend Barbara Mertz, who impacted all our lives so much.

Chuck, Mertz, Hess

This was on the trip to Cairo over New Year’s in 2005-2006. That’s mystery author Joan Hess on the right. I think we’d just left the hookah bar in the Cairo Hilton overlooking the Corniche and Nile. (I’m wearing the Orvis blue blazer I inherited from my brother Jim. I’ll be wearing it tonight, Friday, to the Georgetown Rare Book Show.) It would be so nice to turn back the hands of time…

The bill was painful, but I treated. My Coming Out Party. The four martinis at the after party were even more painful. Somehow I always forget the next morning’s “Never again.” (No, I didn’t drink all four myself.)


There were cobwebs in my eyes all day long. But I ground out production.

Books. Carts. Books. Carts… repeat.


My home and office are vastly improved.

Chuck's Office

Believe it or not.

The first ABAA visitor arrived at 8:30. He was early. I was a bit late. I had trees to water while air-drying in a towel. (Is that TMI?) The only ones who can see me are not hominids… unless there is a Bigfoot in the huge forest west of me. Maryland has more Sasquatch sightings than all but 5 or 6 states, I think.

Then other booksellers trickled in. It turned into an exciting day. In the old days—pre Internet—we had lots of dealers through every month.

Maybe other booksellers are “coming out” as I have.

By day’s end, there were 5 ABAA colleagues here as well as a prospective member. When they’d ravaged the 3 rooms of collectibles at the warehouse, I led them to the Frederick store, which has 60 or so glass cases of “better” books. Of course, the store was overflowing with the public—buying and selling. It was like a barrel of monkeys, and I was the main ape. I overheard a woman asking for Berg’s Maxwell Perkins book. No one at the counter had any idea who he was.

“He discovered Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Rawlings and others,” I stated sagely.

Now, where would someone here stock that book? Journalism? He was an editor… I led a novice employee back. After all these years, I’ve seen so many copies of that, usually unsellable, book my muscle memory knows what the spine looked like.

“Bingo!” I am a genius. (We will just ignore the 4 out of 5 misses… LOL.)

One fellow is staying overnight. My first guest in over 2 years. I managed to get the house about as cleaned up as my office—that is half-a**ed but navigable.

4 or 5 of us will go to dinner as soon as my old friend and mentor Ron Cozzi arrives from Buffalo.



So, another whirlwind week flew by in slow motion. Really! Looking back, so many scenes replaying in my mind at quarter speed. I heard Joe turn on the bathroom fan at 3 a.m. and rose to make coffee, but he was ready to go before the water began to heat.

“Just keep heading downhill, bearing right til you get to the county road. Your GPS should kick in then.”

I went back and crawled into bed. When I awoke, it was raining.

“That’s great. I don’t have to water the treelings.”

Last Friday ended with the water going off in the whole area. Turns out it was caused by a massive sinkhole that ate up most of a major road nearby. It had rained all day and continued all weekend. Monocacy Blvd parallels Interstate 70 there—only about 100 yards away. Our old warehouse was on Monocacy a couple of miles north. The current warehouse is about half a mile away on the other side of 70. I hope we don’t get swallowed up. But I’ve been told the warehouse was built on rock.

The booksellers are buying stacks and stacks of books. These carts hold about half of what booksellers bought here:

Booksellers' Orders

At day’s end, three of us sat in my newly cleared seating in the office chatting about books, other booksellers, life, the universe and everything.

Chuck's Seating

I thought Annika should be in on book people conversation and invited her in.

Ron arrived about 5:30. We have a tradition that when he passes by on the way to a show, he stops and shows me things he thinks I might find irresistible. He has had my number for many years. I bought a lot when I visited him last summer.

Joe Phillips*, Michael Brenner (Brenbooks), Annika and I went out to Ron’s van. It was a gorgeous spring afternoon.

*Joe’s bookstores: (Commonwealth Books in Boston and Newport RI and Crescent City Books in New Orleans and A Parker Books in Sarasota). I visited his NOLA shop last year.

“Chuck, I’ll think you’ll like these,” Ron said, dragging a banker’s box out and setting it on the pavement. He bent and pulled out book after book.

“I have that already.”

“What about this one?”

“Let’s wait til you get to the bottom of the box.”

I ended up buying this little jewel just because it is so beautiful. And I bought this sad green Fitzgerald too, even though I already have a first in jacket.

This Side of Paradise

Why? It had a nice surprise inside.

This Side of Paradise

“Chuck, it was issued without a dust jacket. The signed sheet was tipped in for the American Booksellers Association. There were 500 of them.”

So on Thursday, I sold 400 or 500 books. I still have to retrieve three booksellers’ finds from the Frederick store. I bought two books.

I bet I will buy more tonight.

And I’ll take these little things down to Georgetown and give them to the best food and drink specialist around. The title of the little girl’s one of a kind cookbook is How To Make Eggs (2012.) The cookout photo from the 1930s is from Texas, I’m pretty sure.

Texas Cookbook

It is a good life—being a bookseller. And life is good when you come out of the plague-induced shell and try to get back to where you were… before.

Last night after the bookish dinner at BJ’s, Joe followed me home. He got the nighttime tour of my eyrie on Lonely Mountain. He had brought a nice bottle of wine.


We sat on the matched pair of chairs I inherited from Barbara. They face out the bay window. The wine vaporized on my palate and filled my senses. We looked out at the twinkling lights in the valley far below. We continued talking about books, life… and everything.

A good day. Hell, a GREAT day.

A good couple of weeks. Hell, GREAT weeks.

4 Comments on Article

  1. Kathleen W Arnold commented on

    Hurray for Peri-Pan-Embuggerance cheer!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      ALL that too!
      Thanks Kathleen

  2. Linda Tiller commented on

    Oh Chuck, isn’t it so good to be BACK!
    Back in the saddle, back in the swing, back to business, BACK TO LIFE!
    Bring on the Martini’s! Raise a glass…TO LIFE!
    It is so good to see you feeling the joy of what used to be considered an ordinary day. Here’s hoping for many more.
    All the best to you,

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Cheers Linda!

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