Flying and Falling

Daffodils

Check our the collections mentioned below:
James Woolsey
Tom Crouch


April 1—no fooling!

It is very cold. There will be a hard freeze overnight.

The clothes I’m wearing, a hoodie, jeans, light shirt, were too warm a day ago. I’m chilled in them today.

I lit a fire in the woodstove last night. I stoked it this morning. Tomorrow will be cold as well.

March went by in a blur. The four 8-hour round trips to the university ate up much of the month in time and energy. There were hours evaluating the rare book room over two days at the end of February. There was snow on the Virgin Mary that trip.

The second trip after we had won the auction took hours for four of us to pack and load. It was bright and cool that day. Mary glowed white in the sun.

The third trip involved more packing and loading of two full size vans. We weren’t able to get everything into the vehicles. That day it was pouring rain. The wipers on the van I drove were defective and smeared rather than cleared. Mary stood in the downpour and water from the heavens just poured off her.

The fourth trip was last Friday. There were about 20 tubs left there full of big books and some other material as well. Stuart helped Caryn and me cart the tubs down to the van. Many of the tubs were quite heavy. Stuart helped us lift them into the vans.

It was a bright spring day. Mary fairly glowed.

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I made an offer and purchased the collection of Catholic coins and medals.

We were out by noon.

On the way back, we stopped at Dietrich’s Meats and Country Store—established 1957. I have visited many, many times on the way back from Manhattan or kids’ club and highschool soccer and colleges. But it had been some years since my last visit. They carry some very exotic things. I call it the Stephen King Butcher Shop. They are truly nose-to-tail butchers. They sell noses and tails and…

Pickled Lamb Tongues

They have smoked pig faces and noses and bones and long spines that hang from the ceiling. I get Merry and Pippin smoked bones to gnaw upon.

I don’t buy meat there anymore, but they do have Pennsylvania Dutch delicacies like burned potato chips and black super-hard extra-salty pretzels and other hard-to-find oddities.

Then we stopped at Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouses—established 1962. That nursery was always notable to me because they offer so many things you couldn’t find anywhere. Big healthy specimens in pots, unlike mail order bare root high-risk samples. I think COVID hit them hard. My visit last year was kind of sad. This visit was also disappointing. Perhaps the spring stock has just not come in yet.

I did buy a lot of unusual flower and vegetable seeds. I may have been overly ambitious.

It was dark when we returned to Frederick. I went home and crashed. It has been a long hard month.

But now I have thousands of rare books to play with. Not that I don’t have that every day. This time it was just so many from one place.

We have segregated the 10 pallets in a protected section of the warehouse until I decide how we will approach the collection.

There are a lot of books in line ahead of it.


This is probably Week 53 or 54 of the series I named Bookselling in the COVID Era.

It was a year ago things went dark. March 22, 2020—a Monday—the Governor announced that all non-essential businesses would be shut down as of 5 p.m. That began the frenetic first days and weeks of survival for us.

I reached out to an attorney that day, and he read the governor’s edict. His interpretation was that the warehouse was “essential.” But someone felt we weren’t. A letter was supposedly sent to Governor Hogan accusing us of flouting the brand new (somewhat vague) law.

We were terrified. Would police come and close the door with yellow tape. Would I be perp walked for selling books in a Plague?

Those first days were…terrifying—on so many levels. Some employees were in tears. Others in a rage. They wanted to work. Some “needed” to work. Not for the money, but for sanity.

We reached out to elected officials and were informed we were indeed “essential.” We truck in and out tons of paper every day. We are an “industry” of sorts and part of many supply chains.

But it took some days to get these decisions formally.

Those days were very dark. And extraordinarily expensive. We turned off all the online site we sell on except WonderBook.com. If we took money for books but couldn’t ship them, we’d be in a lot of trouble with Amazon et al.

This story from a year ago reflects some of the fear and doubt of that time. But so do the stories before and after that.

Tomorrow, I get my second shot. It will give me some peace of mind. (Although the rash in the center of my forehead—is it a third eye erupting due to the first jab?)

I’m kidding.

The confirmed deaths stand at 292 in the county of nearly 300,000 souls. That is 0.10%, I think.

94% of those were older people. A large percentage of them were in “congregate homes” and others with severe underlying co-morbidities.

I wonder how history will judge what happened over the last 12 months.

When I’m immunized, is it over for me? I really don’t want to be the last victim of the Plague.

It would be kind of like All Quiet on the Western Front. Dying when the war was essentially over:

In October 1918, Paul is finally killed on a remarkably peaceful day. The situation report from the frontline states a simple phrase: “All quiet on the Western Front.” Paul’s corpse displays a calm expression on its face, “as though almost glad the end had come.”

I am planning a trip as soon as I feel it is prudent.

Perhaps New Orleans—one of many planned 2020 ventures that were canceled.

Perhaps San Francisco, where my last brother is ill.

Then more and more trips. At least to places that are still not banned.


Though I was still exhausted and burned out, I dragged myself into the warehouse Saturday morning and began performing my cart clearing ritual.

I have become cart possessed more than ever. I am on a mission to clear more and more of the many carts laden with exotic or unusual or valuable “stuff.” Some have been waiting for years.

I dug out some of the carts that that been sent to pasture in the early days of COVID—when the mantra was to make space—Social Distancing.

I found another cartload of James Woolsey’s books. And another of Tom Crouch’s mostly aviation and space titles. Those fresh listings will be uploaded soon—maybe some are already.

When those carts are added and emptied, that will be two more that have returned to active duty.

By Sunday evening I, with some help, had created a large herd of carts unsaddled of any books.

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There won’t be any complaints Monday morning that: “We need carts.”


When we returning from the university, we heard the news Larry McMurtry had passed away.

I never formally met him. Nor did I ever visit his DC Antiquarian bookstore “Booked Up.”

He did on a couple of occasions—at least—visit my store when I was on duty long ago. I’m sure I wouldn’t have recognized him in the early days.

Someone, likely another young bookseller, had advised me that if I recognized him, I shouldn’t acknowledge it. If I did, he would likely never return.

The last time I saw him in person, he was looking for books on Siberia and George Halliburton titles.

I mentioned nervously: “My dad was born in Texas in 1909.”

There was no reply.

And I never saw him again.

I never made the journey to Georgetown to visit Booked Up. I was (and am) very shy. I didn’t consider myself worthy of going there. Plus, I had no extra money for rarities in those days.

I have had that feeling for so much of my life.

I just don’t belong.

I wish I had gone to his “City of Books” in its heyday. He moved Booked Up to his hometown of Archer City, Texas and filled many of the downtown buildings with his books.

When he later decided to downsize, there was a massive sale which was the talk of the antiquarian book world.

I didn’t go.

It was too far.

The competition would likely be fierce.

I was too shy.

It is still there, however.

Maybe some day.

I’d like to visit San Marcos, Texas where my dad was born and where my grandparents are buried. (My dad and mom are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.)

I wrote a story about my last trip to Texas long ago.

I wish I had more in common with McMurtry than Texas roots and bookselling.

Scratch a bookseller, and you’ll find he wants to be a writer.

Scratch some writers and…

In his 2001 book of essays, “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen,” McMurtry once said that there was a parallel between his writing, antiquarian book trade and ranching experience.

I do have some nice McMurtry books inscribed to another genius and great bookseller John Gach.

McMurty Books

Be sure you put signed slips in your autographed books!

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Otherwise they might end up as just anonymous reading copies.

Do I have much in common with either man? I’m a member of the ABAA, as they were. We three also had a philosophy about books that more was better.

(I purchased the Gach hoard years ago. There was some great material, but also tens of thousands of crumbling and crunchy old things piled up or shelved three deep. It took us months to remove it all. I’m still not sure if we have broken even on the cost, labor and storage. Plus, I know there are STILL some Gach pallets in the building…waiting. But, BOY, they are hard work! There was no estimating the quantity Gach had. Many were pristinely shelved. Many, many more were in piles and boxes and strewn… I found the McMurty’s on a floor not far from books that were fused to the linoleum from water leaks.)

Is gardening akin to ranching?

No, I guess not. Except that both are dirty work.


72 Lilies

This time of year, my gardening ambitions get ambitious. Sometimes overambitious.

Of course, that happens in the fall when it is time to order bulbs as well.

Madness…but a gentle one.

I bought 4 packs of 18 lilies. It was too good a deal to pass up at Costco.

I planted them last week.

Then I bought 4 more ten packs. I planted those the night before last.

Then I thought it might be nice to plant some “man eating” lilies in the warehouse gardens.

(Man eating because they grow up to 7 feet tall.)

So I…bought more!

The first wave of daffodils is in full swing on the mountain.

The buds on the Redbud trees are swelling.

Mid-spring is a couple weeks off.

I still have Amaryllis blooming from bulbs I potted in December.

Amaryllis + Pots

And I had a moment of weakness and bought a bunch of different varieties of epiphyllum—Orchid Cactus. You buy anything infinitely on the internet. That’s them in the little clay pots in the image above. I did that last night.

Why?

I have had so much success with the one I got from Barbara Mertz’s estate. I’ve been able to divide it numerous times and gift them to friends locally and afar. When I was watering the too, too many potted plants this morning, I discovered one was blooming inside already. A first!

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That photo is unfiltered. Her cactus just glows in the morning light.

They don’t ever blossom for me except outdoors in May or after.

Now you will perhaps understand my epiphyllum binge.

(It was a good deal too. If I spent over $100, I got free shipping!)

The daffodils…here is a one-minute tour. These are just the ones along the drive. There are more in other parts of the “yard.”

It was shot into the sun setting behind the mountain. The ATV still has chains, so the ride is bumpy. Thus the jittery flickering “art house” vibe to it.

Still to come…the mid and late season waves…

I will “wander lonely as a cloud.”

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Then spring will be gone.

The broken heart it kens, nae second spring again.
Though the woeful may cease from their grieving.


Tuesday I had my day planned.

At 10, I was meeting Maribeth at the abandoned Ruby Tuesday on the pad site in front of the Frederick store.

It shuttered in the summer of 2016.

Long, long ago, I would go there often. I would meet with remainder books reps, or we would have our monthly video ordering meetings there. It was likely there I cemented my long friendship with John Adams who suddenly passed away in the COVID summer.

So many awful things happened in the summer of 2020.

Soon John and I scheduled later book ordering meetings, so we could, with good conscience, have beers afterward.

It was odd stepping into the darkened space. Familiar but alien. Akin to archaeology. The tables and chairs—all the fixtures were gone. It was once alive with people and conversation, food and drink, plates and glasses rattling. Silverware clanking. Servers bustling. Impatient diners crowding the front waiting for a table.

The bar, the heavy dark wooden partitions…stuff that had been nailed down remained.

The space appeared much larger having been gutted.

My mind had taken a flyer. There’s only about 100 yards of parking lot between this place and the front door of the Wonder Book store. This could become the book boutique—Wonder Pub?

Clark joined Maribeth and me. He recalled the many hours there. He has long been a creative force behind growing the book business into the unrecognizable thing it is now.

Unrecognizable?

That’s not completely true. When we drove across the parking lot to the store, I parked the van at the curb and crossed the threshold I have trod over for 31 years now.

It was also an empty shell the first time I entered—with Maribeth. I recall vividly whispering:

“Wonderland” at the vast 11,000 square feet.

She and I made the deal with the landlord. A year’s free rent, and the space delivered as a “vanilla shell.” Desperate times those. The new building had long sat vacant for many reasons.

I had insisted on black-and-white floor tiles. A checker pattern because…I liked games?

The store is virtually unchanged. A time capsule.

I stepped across the checkered floor. My son is managing the store.

I was here to inspect but more—to cull books for Books by the Foot orders.

I met with Clark and Joey about tweaking the graphic novel areas. I made some other requests and suggestions to maintain my relevance.

Then I went to pull sci-fi paperbacks. 31 big boxes were needed—likely for a prison. 13 linear feet of books about “Anything that Flies.”

Planes, birds, insects, spacecraft…

And some other stuff.

When I was done, I climbed up into the 24-foot box truck. It was filled with books we had bought over the weekend. It is not diesel, but it groans and puffs and rattles and shakes. You need to let it warm up, or it will stall when you’re driving. If it does, you push it into neutral and turn the key as it continues rolling. NOT fun, that!

At the warehouse, I backed it to Dock 6 until it gently bumped the rubber pads attached to the building’s wall.

When I walked in, it was a mess. When I’d left a few hours before, things were in order, and there was space in the aisles.

“We’ve had a lot of deliveries,” Clif told me.

Larry had texted the night before that 286 boxes were coming at 10. He’d made a deal in Miami for a vast manga collection. I was not thrilled. I thought manga was passé nowadays. Apparently, these are rare and valuable manga.

But he persevered—despite my warnings he might not make any money on the deal. It was weeks in the making. He flew down and packed them. The boxes were piggybacked on the moving truck, which was bringing the owner’s stuff to the DC area, anyway.

Two or was it three churches had dropped off as well.

Plus, a nice fellow who buys storage units whose owners have defaulted.

And an antiquarian bookshop that is shuttering to focus on higher-end material.

The AAUW too.

And the deceased bookseller’s family.

Were there others?

Oh yeah, 60 boxes of a gentleman’s sci-fi collection. Mostly paperback—groan…

My well-laid plans gang agley.

I took my laptop to the office and went back into the warehouse to look for space.

I do have a talent for spatial visioning.

My highschool was named after Robert E. Peary. Our motto was “I will find a way or make one.”


It is Friday morning.

I get my second vaccination in a couple hours. The human body is an odd contraption.

The week will end.

The weekend will begin.

Last night, I brought home a tub from atop one of the university pallets. I knew it had some interesting paper in it. I had packed it myself.

I spread the contents on the oriental carpet in the Great Room.

Medieval leaves—lots of them.

Medieval Leaves

Prints.

Artwork.

Durer…

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Flying

On this planet hurtling through space
in this solar system hurtling through space
on the edge of this galaxy hurtling through space
I exist in these spaces
hurtling through life faster, faster, faster
Physics taught me falling objects accelerate
dropping faster, faster, faster
The constant is 32 feet per second per second
Faster, faster, faster
In a second I would descend 16 feet
in ten 1600
The atmosphere has friction
The air slows the fall a bit
A leaf floats earthward slowly
An acorn drops swiftly
But we live life in a vacuum
There is no drag to slow the fall
A parachute is no help at all
Faster, faster, faster the surface rises
Faster, faster, faster the horizon approaches
How much can I do?
How many things see?
How much may I love?
To halt, to cherish does not slow the acceleration
Count the feet
Count the seconds
Square those numbers
How many miles of life have I fallen through
to this point, this pen putting these words to paper?
Count the days
1,2,4,8,16
32,64,128
a year.
2,4,16,256,
65,536
forever.

12 Comments on Article

  1. Kathy commented on

    Ooooooooh – you misquoted Remarque in his ending of “All Quiet On The Western Front.” The final paragraph is far more evocative and truly haunting.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Kathy,
      I lifted the quote form Wikipedia which excerpted the two phrases shown in quotes.
      You are correct – the entire paragraph is so painful and evocative:
      “He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.”

      It is a truly horrible beautiful book.

      I read it a couple times in German long ago.
      Im Westen Nichts Neues – Nothing New in the West. The English title is much better.
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hope you do so again!
      Best
      Chuck

  2. Andy Moursund commented on

    Here’s a trivia question: Larry’s personal library consisted of about 35,000 books. His friend Susan Sontag had about 25,000 of her own.

    What CURRENT local book dealer reportedly has a personal collection bigger than those two combined?

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      You I bet!
      Me, for sure as well.
      I was surprised in one of the Obits that Archer City had only 400,000 at its peak?
      Thanks Andy!
      Chuck

  3. Hi I would love to photograph your Frederick store for my website, it represents the old school American used bookstore that are not in large numbers like they used to be. I would love to do a piece on it. Let me know if this is possible.

    Thanks

    Shyam

    P.S. I am a frequent customer =).

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That should be no problem.
      Make an appointment with manager Joey.
      That way the staff wont be surprised.
      Please dont include anyone’s face without permission.
      Let me know if I can help
      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      Chuck

  4. Claudia commented on

    Absolutely love your blog! One of the people on my library listserv shared it with us…what a treasure!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind of you to say.
      Covid has changed the diversity of the stories but I hope that changes soon.
      These started in July 2017 and we haven’t missed a Friday yet!
      Please comment anytime!
      Best
      Chuck

      1. Thomas Wixon replied on

        Your daffodils lift anyone’s spirits
        I do believe Our Lady is calling you home to the Church!
        I Love burned potato chips, can you order them?
        If you get to N. O., let me know I am near & we could actually meet.
        I wrote McMurtry about his bookplate & he sent me one and explained what it represented!
        Ciao for Niao,
        Tommy

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thanks Tommy!
          I’ll send you a picture of the chip bag – unless I’ve eaten them all!
          We have a decent stack of book plates for you and i’ll send an email asking for your address.

          Thank you for writing!
          Best
          Chuck

  5. Karen Rodgers commented on

    Delighted to find your Website Charles.. because I bought a book from you via Alibris.. and it came with a book mark..please put your Web address on books marks I had a surprising amount of trouble finding you on web searches and yours is a Website I would not have wanted to miss. And I still love George Elliot and have huge respect for Thomas Hardy.. ‘s extraordinary descriptive powers.. I wonder if he was an oil painter.
    Many of the really good childrens books I bought when ours qwere small came from library sales; they have systemmatically replaced their stock of what I would describe as good fiction books.. i.e both well written and edifying ..with a narrow range of recently published, extremely doomy titles and then they wonder why most of the teenage non fiction section is about depression amnd self help!I am hanging on to my home library and expanding it. It feels like a cultural ark.
    What you do is really important. Please keep doing it and writing about it.

    Happy Easter!

    With warmest regards,

    Karen in Cambridge, UK

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hello Karen,
      Thank you so much for reading the story and especially for taking the time to comment.
      I’m glad you found the wonderbookblog.com site.
      Maybe we should promote it more. I’m shy about imposing it on customers.
      You can subscribe easily. If you want help let me know.
      There have been nearly 200 stories – released every Friday since 2017!
      I’m still a big fan of Hardy. I do want to visit “Wessex”again when I can back to England.
      Before Covid I went to England twice a year or more. There are many blog stories about it.

      With kids you can “dress up” classics using the modern illustrated versions that look much like the dark ones you are describing.
      From Alice to Tolkien to Oscar Wilde.
      That might get younger readers to pick them up.
      Thanks again! You made my day.
      Best
      Chuck

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