Full Loads and Big Boxes and a Couple Great Books

Law Books

It is Friday. January 11. Winter is sneaking in, finally. It is not that I was anxious for the relatively nice weather we’ve enjoyed so far to leave, but I suppose it is better than being smashed in one fell swoop.

Last night was cold. High teens on the mountain. It was a “2 Dog Night.” I only have the two—Merry and Pippin. But they piled atop and against me. I could barely move. I built the strongest fire of the season in the Vermont Castings Defiant wood stove. I filled it to the top with what I call “all nighters”—big chunks of wood that can burn slow and hot for a long time. The glass doors glowed a soft orange as I faded into sleep, and when I awoke at 5 am, it was a like warm eye ten paces from my bed. Comforting—not like a fiery dragon’s eye at all.

I felt wretched last night. Big decisions stress me out. They even make me sick—ish sometimes. Why I stick my neck out I don’t know. I guess although adventures are stressful they are also…adventuresome.

Thursday I went home early—eschewing any Happy Hour “escape” or meeting up with the usual guys. The dogs were happy to see me. They leapt and yelped in their not so little mountainside chalet—getting my attention so I would let them loose all the sooner.

I felt dreadful—at heart and physically. Still, I played with them a bit. Letting them chase a golf ball time after time down long steeply inclined drive. There never tire of it. NEVER. Jack Russells have indomitable spirits. They will run until their paws are sore and then ask for more. I have never had to trim their nails. We go for long walks up in the mountains, and they never want to slow down.

Incongruously, when it is time to rest (in my opinion), they calm immediately and curl up on the floor or my lap with just a word. I’m very, very lucky with dogs and books and…so many things.

Last weekend I pursued one of my New Year’s resolutions. I finally figured out how to use the frequent flyer miles I’ve been accruing for years. It was a learning curve for this Luddite, but I think I’m going somewhere every month for the foreseeable.

That, of course, is stressful too. Next week is a getaway to somewhere far away. There will be books involved I am sure. And I hope I can find a story there as well. Time will tell.

So all the stress and all the life changing and maybe a few too many Old Fashioneds Wednesday and Gin Gibsons Tuesday and unhealthy Happy Hour snacks both nights made my Personal Wellbeing Thursday “problematic.”

As I was playing with one dog and then the other, I was also bringing firewood in from the stacks in the “Barn.” I tossed dried split wood into the cart while one dog or the other watched not too patiently. The cart got rolled across the upper landing, and the firewood lifted into cast iron wood rings on the side porch.

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I watered all the cacti and succulents and amaryllis bulbs and…other plants I am overwintering.

It was now about 7. I felt dreadful still. Mind heart and body.

Get a drink?


Make some dinner—even soup?


I decided to put on flannels and crawl between the flannel sheets and read and write a bit.

Then it was morning—albeit a very black and windy VERY early morning. I got a couple scoops of sunflower seeds and filled the window feeders attached to the bay window that over looks the valley. I loaded the firebox for the day. I’d made some French Press coffee. Pumpkin Spice—I’m not much for flavored coffee except for this.

I felt…good. A day’s fast seemed to cure many ills.

I got in the old F150 with Merry and Pippin (I felt it was too cold to leave them out all day) and rolled down to work.

I got in at 7 and was in a much better frame of mind to see if I could get some kind of book story done as well as my regular duties.

Well, here goes blog #85…

This week began with a:


A week ago—Friday—a bookseller friend had emailed me:

“Would you be interested in… I have had it long enough and I think it is the kind of thing you like. I’m willing to let it go for…”

I was told it would be sent Next Day. Sure enough first thing Monday morning a package was handed to me. I cut it open and that magical tingling ran up my shoulders and into the nape of my neck. For after cutting through the tape on the last bundle of bubble wrap, I was able to hold in my own hands this:

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Das Narrenschiff—the Ship of Fools

It is a wonderful and important book. It is an incunabulum*. That is wondrous in itself. It is a great and biting satire on the human condition—not unlike Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

* incunabulum = an early printed book, especially one printed before 1501.

AND it has numerous woodcuts by Albrecht Durer.

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Quickly though, Monday transitioned from the sublime to the mundane and then some ridiculous.

Law libraries are disappearing. It makes perfect sense. Though I staunchly defend real printed books, in some cases it makes more sense for information to be transferred online. Every week I get emails or calls like:

“Do you want 247 volumes of the Tennessee Reporter?”

“Ummm, are they in Tennessee?”


“I’m sorry, but that’s too far for us to even consider.”

I understand their dilemma. Most people don’t want to throw away books of any kind. Someone is tasked at a law firm to “make the old books go away.” They cast about for solutions.

But they look SO good.

But they take up SO much space.

And no one is using them anymore. Haven’t seen one touched for years.

If the books are brought to us, we will pay something for them. On some occasions, we will pick up law books if they are located close enough, the books are in great shape and don’t have any library markings on them…and we need them at the time. But we won’t pay anything to pick them up. The labor and the travel costs outweigh the marginal value they have for us as “Books By the Foot.”

I’d been having an email exchange with a librarian for several months. That’s not a good sign—ever. Too much time, too many exchanges equals a high risk of failure.

“Would you come get our books?”

I asked for some images and some of the books looked good. Other were just binders or clearly had library tags on their spines. I explained we could take some but not all. Then I didn’t hear anything back for a few weeks. The negotiations stopped and started several times. Part of the problem was the holidays. The people there were unavailable or we couldn’t get there.

Then things got confusing. Suddenly, there was a deadline. I should have just passed, but I had previously committed. I wouldn’t want the reputation of someone who says “Yes” one month and then says “No” later on.

“Ok. We will get there early next week.”

“You will take all of them won’t you?”


I thought we had gone over this. Several times.

“We will take as much as we can, but we can’t take those that are marked up.”

“You can peel the spine labels off, you know.”

“When we get there, we will be able to tell you what we can and cannot take. Those we can’t use we can’t afford to take. You will have to find someone else to dispose of them. If you can find someone to bring them up here, we can recycle those for you. Some law firms pay people that work in firm—building engineers for example—to bring them to us. That avoids hiring moving companies.”

“You’re going to charge us to take them away?”

“No. We will come and take as many books as we can use for no charge.”

Things were getting confusinger and confusinger.

Subsequently, some weeks later, something she emailed made me think she now thought we would pay for the books we were going to pick up. Maybe she had been reaching out to others booksellers and got us confused?

“I’m sorry we can’t pay for them. We are just trying to help you so you don’t have to pay someone to dump them. It costs us about $100 per hour to send two guys and a van down there.”

“Maybe these aren’t worth your coming down for then.”


“No. There were a lot in the pictures you sent that we can pickup for you. We just can’t pack and tote them all—even for free.”

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“But you’re not going to charge me to take them are you?”


This was not going well. I knew it would not be good no matter what. But I finally committed that we would come down and take as much as we could.

Monday was the day that we had committed to. After 3 months, we would finally go and get a load of books we really didn’t need.

Of course, come Monday morning a lot of people called out sick, but a deal is a deal. It would only take a couple hours for two guys to fill a van with law books. But with those two gone, there was no one to do warehouse work…but me. My first job was to take an empty van down to our Gaithersburg store and swap out the one they filled with buys from the public over the weekend. I often enjoy that. The 25 minute drive each is quiet time. No phone. No text. No one asking me things.

When I got back to the warehouse, all the warehouse help was out of the building. I was apparently the only one physically capable to move pallets and do a lot of the other toting and lifting needed to keep the sorters and data entry folk “fed” with the kinds of books they need.

I was the “warehouse guy du jour.” Did I consider this beneath my exalted position as a top CEO?

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I’d just been named of Frederick County’s Top 50 CEOs by Frederick County Office of Economic Development.

Actually, I like that kind of work. It is physicality. It is like playing with giant puzzle pieces moving tons of books atop wooden and plastic pallets around the building.

So, the day flew by. Actually, it mostly “rolled” by. Pallet jacks, carts, vans,–wheels going round and round.

About 3 o’clock, I wondered about the law books. It was getting late. I called.

“We’re on our way back. Funny story. I’ll tell you when we get back.”

They backed to Dock 2 about 430. That is closing time for most of the warehouse operations. We do have some shipping, pulling and data entry staff here until 7.

“Chuck, it was so weird. The librarian kept changing her mind. Take these but not those. Look how easy it is to peel the stickers off. We would get piles here and there and then have to wait to see if the next shelf was ok to go. Plus we had to take everything out through Security as well as going through Security to get in each load. It was a long way from the library to the dock where we parked the van.”

So, the day was shot. We spent a lot of time and money getting essentially worthless books we don’t need…well, we don’t need at this time, but if some movie or TV show needs thousands of law books for a courtroom or lawyer’s office…we are good to go.

Monday continued.

I’d scheduled a house call for that afternoon. Mostly out of ennui. It didn’t sound promising but at least it was close. Something to do on an evening with no plans. The guy had told me he buys storage lockers at auction.

So I headed out there after work. It was getting dark fast. The woman in my phone was directing me up alleys and across gravel passes. The back side of nowhere.

“The destination is on your left.”

It was an old 1960s split level that was a little the worse for wear. The neighborhood was the type with old asbestos shingled sheds, dead pickup trucks parked 5-10-15 years ago and left to eventually meld into the earth.

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Their driveway was a bit steep. The empty van is pretty light and its wheels spun a bit as I backed up. I’d been instructed to back to the right-hand garage door.

The guy I’d spoken with and emailed had said there were about 60 boxes and 3000 books. That didn’t add up. Most boxes won’t hold much more than 35 hardcover books.

I’d also asked that since I was going alone, would he help me load if my offer was accepted?


A nice young woman came out the side door and led me into the garage. It was what you would expect from someone who buys storage units as a side business. Piles of all kinds of stuff everywhere.

“The books are against this wall.”

Indeed they were. Floor to ceiling and extending out about 8 feet from the wall.

The boxes were HUGE. I peered into a few and they looked fine. Not great. Not terrible either.

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I made an offer. They were not overjoyed nor terribly disappointed.

“Well, lets get started.”

There were some smaller boxes here and there. I started with those first. My helper was laying back.

I bent to lift one of the big boxes.


It must have weighed 80-90 pounds. I leaned into and lifted. The side started splitting and I could sense the bottom giving way.

“Can you give me a hand?”

“I’ll try. I got a bad arm.”

We each cradled opposite sides off the box’s bottom. We set it on the tail of the van and tried to slide it in. The boxes continued to torque and split…

We did about a dozen which nearly covered the van’s floor. There was no question of we two hefting more of them up onto another level.

“I’m gonna have to come back for the rest. I’ll pay for these and come back Wednesday with more help.”

This little country town was in the northern part of the county. I headed west and found a familiar road that would eventually wind to another couple roads that would eventually wend their way to my mountain drive. As the van bumped up the steep incline, I heard the sound of splitting boxes behind me.


I had an early lunch meeting with my real estate broker. I’ve known him since the early 80s. Tall handsome…he could have been clothing model. He has been very good to me. Another person who believed in Wonder Book and made others believe as well.

We sat down at Madrones. I almost never eat lunch. But I AM quite familiar with Madrones impressive Happy Hour offerings—food and drink. It was a very uncomfortable and stressful time. My 120 day study period was ending. I had to sign a contract or bail out on my next adventure…or folly.

The Frederick City Farm LLC. It’s only about 1.7 acres. The last bit of the last farm in the confines of downtown Frederick. Frederick is now the second largest city in Maryland. Frederick County is booming in every way. This property caught my eye last summer. I’ve been dreaming about Book Bar or Book and Winery or Book and Brewery or distillery…for many years. A comfortable place to unwind where you are surrounded by books. If you choose, you can have something wonderful to drink as well.

We will see. It is still in the planning stages, but it could be great fun. There’s a huge old farmhouse in front. All the rooms and porches are in great shape. The finished off barn in back would be great for a brewery or party bar or distillery—or all of them. Room for 75 parking places….

I signed my name. I only ate one of the delicious fried oysters atop my Caesar Salad. My appetite was compromised.

I told my friend thanks and said I hope this would work out.

“It is a great idea. I’m with you all the way.”

It was now mid afternoon, and I had arranged to pick up the rest of the books from that storage guy. Clif was on his way with a helper. I met them there. The boxes looked even bigger in daylight.

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I chatted with the guy.

“You can just bring books right to the warehouse from now on. I can pay a lot more delivered.”

“That’s good to know. I’ll tell my dad too. He clears out houses almost every week. He has for years and years. He always takes books right to the pulp mill.”


My heart sank. All those lost tomes…

“I can always pay a lot more than pulp value. Plus we can unload quickly. There’s lots of help and we have plenty of loading docks.”

“Cool! We’ll probably be bringing you more books than you can use.”

“That would be difficult, but you can try.”

So, maybe this was the beginning of a beautiful biblio-relationship.

It was now late afternoon. I checked in at the office and then went to Happy Hour at Le Parc Bistro. Two big Gin Gibsons—up very dry. Mussels with great white wine buttery sauce to dip bread in. French Onion Soup with the cheese and bread atop broiled to a light crispiness.

Home where I watched the end of The Return of the King with a bottle of Rioja.

I wept at the usual spots.

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.

GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.

I exalted at the ultimate victory of good over evil.

No wonder I felt like crap all day Thursday.

Even this little find in the slush pile didn’t hearten me much:

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Yep. All the points are right.

An old friend and one-time employee, Sterling Lanier, was an editor at Chilton Books. (He was a SciFi/Fantasy author as well.) Chilton’s focus was car manuals and other kinds of repair guides. Somehow Sterling talked the owners into publishing this manuscript he had discovered. Dune. The rest is history.

Maybe that could be a future book story?


Pecking away at this story. Almost done.

I took some of the managers over to look at the “Farm” this morning. They seemed excited.

I’m scared. Maybe I’ll just run away…

6 Comments on Article

  1. Tobi Drabczyk commented on

    Congratulations on your award! Return of the King is my favorite of the three LOTR movies. I read the books when I was a teenager and fell in love with them. I named my youngest daughter Arwen! Great post!

    1. Chuck replied on

      Thank you Tobi!
      I reread and rewatch LOTR periodically.
      They always satisfy.
      I think I wrote about my discovery of LOTR – maybe the one about my brother:
      He Aint Heavy ?

      I first read them by flashlight under the covers so my parents wouldn’t catch staying up so late reading…

  2. Susan Greene commented on

    I love the idea of your new book store adventure. Years ago I owned a vintage furniture and accessory store on Patrick street. I wanted to turn it into a bookstore/ coffee bar. But a bookstore/ coffee/ beer/ wine bar is brilliant. And I would love to help make this become a real place.

    1. chuck replied on

      Very cool, Susan!
      I hope we can pull it off.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Michael Dirda commented on

    Great stories, as always, Chuck. I remember that you mentioned the Books and Brews idea to me once during a happy hour dinner.
    Sterling Lanier! His stories about Brigadier Ffellowes are like darker versions of Dunsany’s Jorkens’ club tales. I was once on a panel with Lanier and he said that he had reached an age when he would just keep books he wanted to read or reread, that–and this is what shocked me at the time–he’d break up a beautiful set of, say, Kipling and just retain “Kim” and “The Jungle Books.” I do wish he’d written more Brigadier stories. If you’ve never read “The Kings of the Sea,” you’re in for a treat. The shocking last line is just perfect.–md

    1. chuck replied on

      Thanks Michael.
      Sterling was certainly a character.
      He worked winters (“I get cottage fever. I need something to keep me busy.”). When I say “worked” I mean he really would just show up and hold forth with customers or browse the stacks.

      Yes. He would buy odd lots of forgotten authors.

      In nice weather when he was just a customer he would sometimes come in w a sword cane and unsheath it and make passes around the sales counter.

      We would go to lunch at Barbara Fritchie and he would always have their soup and a piece of pie.

      He would quiz me an extinct animals fantasy creatures etc … I was Zoology major and did ok.

      If I did well and amused him he would hand over one of the miniature bronze creatures he sculpted – passing it surreptitiously under the table . Those were a real treat.

      Last year at NYC ABAA a Florida dealer had a framed letter from Tolkien and a number of miniatures LOTR cultures for $20k. They sold.

      He also published at least on Sherlockian pastiche … it was anthologized in … ? And had something to do w Vernet the artist to whom Holmes was distantly related.

      Thanks for the comment!

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