Half August, Half September

Winery Visit

It is the Ides of August. In England would you call it “half August”? In Germany “half September”?

Monday. 59 degrees and rain patters on the roof in the pitch blackness outdoors. My slick new charcoal-gray laptop glows in my lap, propped up on my knees. It is so light and thin compared to the Mac I just retired. This one won’t fill up so fast, I’m told. Clark, the tech guru here, believes I am a “memory” hoarder, I am sure. The good thing about hoarding memory on a computer (or a brain) is that it doesn’t fill up more space physically. Your laptop or your head doesn’t increase in size if you fill it with lots and lots of gigabytes (or whatever they are.) My heavier, old metallic silver Mac was “full” and would die soon, I was told.

I hope I don’t die when my brain gets full. Maybe it is good that it leaks.

Sunrise is an hour away.

I slept well for a change.

Exhaustion helped. So did sleepless nights—or nearly so—both Friday and Saturday.

So did massive book handlings. I’d done a lot of carts during the week, so on Saturday morning I had Dylan, the youngster who comes in on weekends now, load up some pallets with collections that had my name on them. I decided to look at them primarily because a large percentage would come back to me eventually anyway.

We walked into the Data Entry area which stores yellow tubs filled with books that are waiting to be added to our 2.5 million book internet stock—or get rejected by the computer because we have too many copies on the shelves already… or rejected for other arcane reasons. There are also 35 or 40 pallets of “raw” books stored there waiting to be sorted. I had my eye on a few since I walk down that row many times each day.

One was from the house call to my old friend. The “Bookectomy” of a couple of weeks ago. I think it is mostly Easton Press and other leather-bound books. After the house call, I asked the warehouse guys to unload the books onto three pallets. One, modern hardcovers, most with the dustjackets wrapped in Brodarts. The other, leather. The third, old Sci Fi digest mags—groan… We are getting so many collections of these now. The guys that bought them new are reaching the age of downsizing—or worse. I have not been able to figure out a way to market them. They don’t sell for a buck outside the stores. They don’t sell stock like mass market paperbacks spine out on wooden shelves. We are trying, again, to put them in plastic bags and hang them throughout the stores, hoping their fantastic and often lurid covers will help sell them.

I didn’t want to get into those. Dead ends.

Then there was a “Vintage” pallet from my friends at Capitol Hill Books. These are mostly older books they don’t want to mess with, but there are also modern firsts—many signed—by authors they don’t want to mess with. They don’t find messing with books which are not good or high priced sellers profitable. Because we are more of a machine, we can do things with these books that make handling them worthwhile.

Finally, there was a pallet of very dusty yellow tubs. I’d seen them on Friday—hiding behind some other pallets. I recognized the books in the tubs on top as likely from the era when we “tubbed” up books we didn’t know what to do with. We stopped that after too many tubs were being created. We saw the pain of untubbing them was more onerous that just forcing ourselves to deal with them as they came. Plus, software and hardware improvements had rendered them less problematic.

i.e. We could risk the expense, the risk, of adding them online even though there was a low chance they would ever sell.

Carting them exposes the spines, and I can often scan three hundred titles that way in a few minutes.

“Cart these three up, please, and roll them over to where I’m working,” I asked Dylan.

That’s how I spent my Saturday. Cart after cart.

It was fun going through the Easton Press. They are beautiful books. So often, we get the hard to sell titles. Hawthorne, Flaubert, Shaw… no one reads or buys them much anymore. This lot had Poe and F Scott Fitzgerald, a long run of Hemingway, Baudelaire…


The yellow tubs contained a hodgepodge. I think people put odds and ends in them that they weren’t sure what to do with. A few years ago, I would have agreed on many. Now we can add the exotic titles online and HOPE that someone finds them by keyword searches. Some may be “unique.” If there are no copies anywhere online—viaLibri is my favorite for initial searches—and there are none on WorldCat*, then we may have the only copy. Likely there are more out there… somewhere. But if so, why hasn’t some institution added a copy to its collection?

*WorldCat: a union catalog that itemizes the collections of tens of thousands of libraries and institutions.}

The Premier League soccer games helped the day fly by. Three games. One after the other.

I was exhausted. I didn’t sleep but a couple of hours on Friday night. I don’t know why.

Around 4:30, I told Travis I was leaving a little early but that I’d be back.

“Leave the dock doors open. I’ll close them when I come back. Maybe those wrens will fly out when it is darker inside than outside.”

A lot of wrens had fledged in dockyards late last week. There was a lot of vocal banter going on between parents and offspring.


They are very tiny birds, but they have big voices. They are a significant part of my morning wake-up calls.

They also “chatter.” I think that is how they communicate with the fledglings. There was a lot of chatter around the warehouse on Saturday.

A couple of young ones had flown into the building and were calling out in distress from the roof joists.

Anxious parents trying to cajole the young ones out of the building were calling and chattering constantly.

A parent would come in and feed them and try to lure them out, to no avail. I thought maybe the bright lights inside were confusing them. Those lights come on when motion is detected. When everyone left, I believed it would become darker inside and the fledglings would go out the big open dock doors to the natural light outside.

I went to my friends’ winery/vineyard—New Market Plains Vineyard a few miles away. I needed decompression. Too many stressful things—personal and professional… maybe that’s why I wasn’t sleeping. It was a lovely afternoon. I sat alone at a picnic table and transposed some “po-ems” from a legal pad onto my laptop.

Winery Visit

I’d written a lot in the second half of July and in Quebec.

Their Chardonnay is nice and dry. Crisp.

Howard came up to me as I was leaving and suggested I stay a while longer.

“Too tired. I’m fried.”

I went home. I sliced up some peppers and tomatoes from the warehouse gardens and topped some defrosted leftover pizza slices with the stuff.

I made an Old Fashioned and put on a movie—some Daniel Craig James Bond thing. (I don’t know about you, but he is my least favorite Bond. He has no humor, seems robotic and looks more thuggish than debonair.)

“Damn! The dock doors are open! I forgot to stop by and close them!”

Well, I was in no shape to go back down there. The dockyard has a high chainlink fence, and the gate was chained and locked. Plus, there were three dogs loose in the dockyard.

Still, I fretted about it and didn’t sleep (again.) I headed down near dawn—around 5:30.

Everything was fine.

And the wrens were gone!

It was just me and Dylan on Sunday. I had him cart up some more aging dusty pallets that had my name on them. One was a deceased Secret Service agent’s books. Oddly, there were 50 or more Grace Livingston Hill books. Hardbacks from the early 20th century. Some were jacketed, but all were Grosset and Dunlap except two nice copies of her autobiography in jacket. I don’t recall ever seeing that before. She was a bestseller when I was a young bookseller even though she wrote in the 1920s or so. But it was mostly just elderly women buying them then. Some younger women collected her too. Maybe they were reading their “mothers'” books. Comfort reading, I’m sure. Now I don’t think I’ve seen one go out online—ever?

The Secret Service agent also had a LOT Kennedy stuff. For some, the Kennedy assassination defined an era. There were even some Kennedy memorial plates and cups and stuff.

He had made some interesting scrapbooks. One had those high-speed photos—a few of a bullet going through an apple. They look original. I put the scrapbooks aside for another time.

There were hundreds of Life and other 50s and 60s mags. There was the Time magazine with Elizabeth on the cover. Her Coronation issue. Lots of Kennedy mags and memorial publications too.

He had various diplomas and awards for ballistics and being an armorer.

There was some signed presidential material as well. Like these:

Presidential Material

Dylan also carted up another pallet of the huge train hoard that Larry brought in a while back.

I’m not interested in the stuff, but many will bring good money. Big heavy coffee table books printed on weighty paper stock. My arms got tired lifting all of them into guesstimate price piles. We could never get around to looking these up individually.

Trains… another disappearing passion from older generations who actually rode them often.

By stopping time Sunday, Dylan and I had emptied 7 pallets over the weekend.

Seems like a lot of spaces, doesn’t it?

My back hurts.

Monday morning. On the road to the Gaithersburg bookstore.

No. I’m not driving. Fred is. He hasn’t been here long but is doing great helping in a lot of areas.

There’s an urgent “Hollywood” order. 50 linear feet of Black History/culture/biographies… Plus, 20 linear feet of sports books. It has to go out tomorrow to get to California by deadline.

These projects are therapeutic for the stores. We can create space for the constant flow of new arrivals.

These projects are therapeutic for me too. It gets me out of the warehouse. I get a little workout pulling the books. Plus, I put some face time in at the stores. I get mixed messages. Some staff like me to visit. On occasion, it is stressful—if they think I’m looking for “trouble.” More and more I go out of my way to be positive. When the stores are doing well and the morale is good, it is a pleasure. There have been times in the past where I felt I was in enemy territory. Currently, all three stores are doing great at all levels.

Ernest is going to Hagerstown. They need the culling more than anyone. There are major moves in the works there.

I may need to go to the Frederick store this afternoon to finish up the order.

It feels like fall. Cool. Gray.

On the way back to Frederick Monday.

I pulled a lot of sports. It was needed. There were books on the floor. I hope I pulled enough that they can clear the floor there.

The place looks great.

Bookstores are cool places to mess around in.

An email dropped in when I returned, “Ticketmaster—are you ready for your Roger Waters Concert tomorrow?”


I checked my calendar. Yep, there it was, but I had put it on Thursday, not Tuesday. I bought the tickets in January or February 2020. The show has been postponed twice.

Did I want to go? I don’t have anyone to go with.

I opened my Ticketmaster account.

“Your printed tickets will have arrived at least 2 weeks before the concerts.”

I haven’t gotten any tickets recently. I’d notice that.

Thus began an hour long process trying to find the tickets online. Or transfer them to my phone. Or…

I chatted with a Ticketmaster robot who assured me I had printed tickets but that I could convert them to digital. I did what I was told.

“Sorry. There is a problem. Please try again later.”

I tried a few more times.

Same screen.

What can I do?

Then something clicked.

Did I get tickets in 2020?

I went into my office and scanned the corkboard above my impossibly cluttered desk.

Yep. There was a Ticketmaster envelope pinned to it.

I opened it.

March 2020. Those dark days when we didn’t know if we were all going to die.

Somewhere in today’s email I remember seeing:

“Your tickets are still good.”


My head hurts. I should have worn ear protection to the Roger Waters’ concert last night. I’m glad I went, but it was more like work than a fun concert. But now I can check “Pink Floyd” off my bucket list. To say he was political and highly opinionated would be a massive understatement. Every president is a “war criminal” the big screen showed—going back as far as Reagan. EVERY one. He did give Eisenhower a pass—because he coined the phrase “Military Industrial Complex”… LOL. He threw bombs (and LOTs of F bombs) at just about everything and everyone—except the mirror. All the stuff about greed and MONEY… the tickets cost a fortune.


Driving back from DC was tough. I had a very stiff neck from looking up at the stage, and my brain was battered by the noise and light.

We are taking two vans up to Hagerstown. Fred is driving me. Ernest is on his own. We will descend on the store like deus ex machina and do a massive purge. It would be a waste for the staff to spend time moving dead stock. And we will resize many categories. Yesterday, I culled the “Sex” section. No, it wasn’t fun. There must have been 30 Kama Sutras on one bookcase. Mostly the same edition. And oddly authors like Anne Rice, Erica Jong, Anais Nin—even James Thurber—were in Sex rather than Lit or fiction. Misfiled (my responsibility for poor training and not checking sooner) and dated, duplicate books. Well, it is not a section I check. And Books by the Foot doesn’t get orders for sex by the foot.

Today, we will cull… I’m not sure what. Yesterday, Ernest killed off the dogs. We had four bookcases of them. And many of the books were dogs about dogs.

12:30—about 1 and half hours later—and we have a full van of dead wood.

Cull Van

Successful pruning.

It will be therapeutic for the store. Fresh books will fill the voids like fresh growth on a well-pruned tree.

Now I am REALLY tired.

What will I do for the rest of the day? I’d really just like to lie down and read or write. We will see what problems there are when I’m back at the warehouse.

Thursday morning

I had started dismantling the wren nest in one of the flowerpots on my side porch. I had lifted off a handful of the dead leaves that make up most of it. I thought their nesting season had to be over by mid August. Then I thought about all the wren action at the warehouse. I peeped in. Sure enough, there were at least three baby heads pressed tightly together. I set the handful of leaves back atop it.

Full Wren Nest

Fred and I are heading to an old friend’s home to pick up another load of downsizing. A bookectomy. It is sad because I spent much of my book life building this collection. It is the only one I ever did as a personal “mission.”

It is a beautiful curated and organized Sci Fi, Horror and Mystery collection. There are some real rarities. He is hanging on to those.

We are finally able to turn right on Monocacy Blvd to get on Interstate 70. The sinkhole from last March 5th has finally been filled and paved over. Life will get a little easier now. The detour was time consuming by distance and congestion. There was really only one way out of our industrial park for all that time.

This time, my friend was culling a fraction of his vintage Sci Fi and Horror mass markets. All are in pristine condition. Unfortunately, we are getting a lot of these kinds of books as the guys (usually) who collected them when new or as a nostalgia thing are getting to the age of downsizing or moving on in other ways.

The good news is that young people are interested—but only in some. Philip K Dick and Lovecraft are still impossible to keep in stock. Horror is strong. Sadly, most of the traditional Sci Fi is out of style. So much of what was futuristic decades ago is now available technologically or sociologically much more normal. Mankind hasn’t gotten to the stars yet, but we do have talking wrist watches and vast reference libraries that fit in our pockets.

Sad… I hate to see times end.

But I guess that is how I’ve spent my life. It is just that before too long it will by my turn!

Why the hell haven’t they come up with a fountain of youth pill?!

Another week has flown by. I have hastened it by going to the stores every day. Any trip to a store will kill off half a day at least.

This story will get sent to our newsletter list and posted to our social media on August 20th.

Then London and Oxford a couple of weeks after that. I am so anxious for that. I NEVER tire of London. I have never been to Oxford. I’m attending the ILAB Congress. We will be given access and backstage tours to some wondrous Oxfordian bookish things.

Tomorrow morning is settlement on my ill-fated book bar/brewery. I am already looking for another location.

The 2 52,000 square foot warehouses I am building (well, “I” am not actually doing anything but signing my name on documents, permits and checks) continues with the grading and leveling. Turns out, the topsoil was wonderful and quite deep.

They are actually hauling away dumptruckloads of it. It will be sold and go to good use. Here it is on a vacant lot in an industrial park. I asked if they would dump a load here by the warehouse. We are contractually required to plant two little groves of trees by the City. (As if “I” could be FORCED to plant trees!) No, I won’t be planting them myself. But, well, maybe I will bring some of the extra Redbud seedlings down from the mountain…

Planting trees and millions of books…

I should be proud. Well, I am, but I think I should be doing more.

Tempus Fugit.

My accountant says I should wait a couple of years to start taking Social Security. If I wait a couple of years, the monthly rate will go up 8%. I did some calculations. I would have to live to… older than my parents or brothers—to recoup not taking it now. I have had a job since I was 16. Including college (summers.) I think I’ve earned my “insurance.”

I’m going to my estate attorney this afternoon. I need to sign the lease commitment for a company that wants one of the two warehouses. That’s good. They are a blue chip company. I don’t think I’ll live to see a profit on the project. But then, that wasn’t the point.


Another cool morning. 69 degrees inside. The windows are open and dry air flows over me in bed.

Another poor night of sleep.

Some loose ends will be tied up today.

This morning we settle on the property that I had hoped would become a book bar and brewery. That was well into 2019. I spent a lot on architectural designs and marketing. I was having trouble finding a partner or employee for the brewing and bar aspect. My experience is on the customer side of the bar. Then COVID happened. In retrospect, I am glad it never got off the ground. I surrendered to forces greater than I. I punted and put the place up for sale last year. There was a buyer last fall. But that fell apart at the last minute. Then this group came along in March. It is a Deaf Community Org. Frederick is home to the Maryland School for the Deaf, and there’s a large population in the area. The property will become a community center. I’m glad. That is a good use.

Tonight, I’m meeting my great friend John Adams’ widow. We will catch-up and reminisce. Maybe there will be some closure for me.

When I got home last night, the wrens in the potted plant had fledged.

Empty Wren Nest

And it will be another busy book Friday.

Vans will go to all the stores.

Different vans will return.

Another week ending.

The summer is aging into coolness. The next 10 days are forecast with highs in the 80s. Lows in mid 60s. Sleeping weather. I hope.

Last week, a new sorter found some things she was interested in on her first day.

Classic EB White

The Charlotte’s Web is a first. I’m offering her a huge discount, but it will still be a good deal of money.

Beginners luck.

Another book nut hooked on collecting special editions.

4 Comments on Article

  1. Kathleen Arnold commented on

    Recounting your sorting and culling fits with my current read, The Bookseller of Florence. The arduous travels, the searches in ancient repositories through moldering piles of parchment (even papyrus), having to learn new languages, finding and dealing with ancient ideas and information in uncertain times–and I’m only on page 70. Godspeed to you and the wrens!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I wish I was that adventuresome!
      Thank you reading , commenting and “Godspeed”

  2. MichelleM commented on

    My sister just sent me your website.
    “August-September” caught my eye, & your life is lovely. I hear Fall coming as you write, all about your days, from a countryside surrounded by vineyards & books. Leaves, of types, everywhere!
    Looking forward to your newsletter.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank your sister for linking us up Michelle!
      There have been over 5 years of stories sent out EVERY Saturday!
      That may be a bit obsessive?
      You can subscribe to have them sent automatically every Saturday. (And it is easy to unsubscribe).
      Let me know if you need help.
      Thanks again for reading AND writing.

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