Hemispheric Bookselling

Swallow Nest

I wonder what is going on at home?

I bite into the big pear. Clear sweet watery juice pours over my hand and drips to the ground at my feet. That’s why I took it outside to eat. Soon they will be too soft. Currently, they are the consistency of thick slush. Juicy sweet ambrosia.

The contractor asked me to leave the door unlocked this morning. Maybe the carpet will be installed in the garret when I get home. If the stair railing and clothing pegs are reattached, I’ll be able to start using the new space. I’m up for hauling stacks of books up the stairs and shelving them. Part of my house has been frozen in time for over six months because of problems and delays.

“Now the second air compressor [the backup] won’t come on,” a manager tells me on the warehouse floor. There’s urgency in her voice. Without the air compressor, we can’t run the packaging machine. Orders will be delayed.


Enough complaints equals doom.

The first compressor began leaking oil this morning, and we shut it off. I’ve reached out to the repairman. It is difficult to find someone to work on these units.

“How much would it cost to get a new one?”

“Tell them we can’t take that many truckloads of books at once,” I tell another manager.

The remainder company had sent two this week already and want to send six more in the next week. Each truck is 42 pallets double stacked—40,000 books or more. We’ve all been working at nothing else besides making space all this week. I’m tired. Exhausted. Sore.

And now I’m getting angry. Everyone in the warehouse is being led, as if on a leash, by a company that is insisting on sending over three months of orders all at once. All I’ve done all week and last weekend was to go through books. The urgency is to make space for the truckloads of books. We needed them several months ago. Now? Not so much. It is often a frantic existence.

What happens if we don’t work fast and hard enough at times like this?

We fall behind.

Things build up.

The warehouse fills.


Books could be turned away.

Or, worse, left outside to the elements.

I surrendered a little while ago. I took the laptop and the pear out to the dockyard. I’m sitting at the black wire and steel bistro table. It is a glorious day. Sunny. Balmy. 80 degrees.

The swallows have reproduced. Dozens of them swoop around the buildings like fighter jets and fly onto their mud nests built with bird spit and mud, architecturally attached to the warehouse walls in alcoves or below overhangs where predators can’t land.

This nest is just outside the door to the dockyard.

Swallow Nest

A parent somehow announces it is swooping in. Five gaping maws rise in unison and hope some food is put in their mouth.

I wonder what my house will look like when I get home tonight.

I’m tired and sore, and it is only 2:20 on Thursday afternoon.

I won’t be in the mood for physical labor tonight. I might not be physically able to, anyway.

But I will need to empty 40 bags of mulch from the pickup. I’m lending it to my friends who are under a deadline to move. They need to take furniture to the consignment shop.

With the two new little box trucks we got a few weeks ago, we now have five spares in the dockyard where I’m seated. They all need to be emptied.

I wonder if Caryn found more Heinleins. She called me over to show me a box she had come across.

Heinleins & Herberts

Many of the jackets have silverfish damage, but most are firsts. There are some early Frank Herberts too. There’s bound to be more vintage sci-fi in the big old apple boxes on that pallet or I’m no book scout.

I guess I should go back inside and see what else is going on.

Problems certainly.

Space problems.

Equipment problems.

God, I hope there are no people problems. Those are the worst.

What would happen if I just got into the Explorer and took off? I could go… exploring.

Or I could take this laptop to the far corner of the half-acre dockyard and hide.

“Where is he?”

“He bailed and left us in this mess.”

I can’t do that.

There’s always a way.

Think harder.

Work harder.

It is Friday morning.

When I got home last night, the contractor and the carpet guy were winding up.

The garret is lovely.


It smells of new carpet and freshly cut pine. I don’t need a place to hide up here. On the mountain, the whole place is hidden in the woods. A retreat from people and the world. The garret is a retreat within a retreat. It is the highest place in the house. Still, the view out the window in the roof peak is only green leaves and tree branches. Maybe this winter I will have some vista pruning done to create a view of the valley below.

(I took Pippin out a second time to do his business. He hopped off the porch and found a golf ball. He ran up the steps and dropped it at my feet. 6 a.m., and he wants to chase balls down the steep driveway. He gazes up at me with his whole 20-pound body vibrating with urgency.)

The contractors wanted to show off their work last night. I can’t blame them. They should be proud. Then they rumbled down the mountain, and I had the place to myself. I hadn’t eaten at home for over a week. The fridge is loaded with leftovers. The freezers are full of anonymous packages wrapped in foil. I’ll never eat all this unless there’s another plague. I took a few out of the freezer downstairs the night before to defrost. One package happened to be turkey. From… when? Some Thanksgiving or Christmas during COVID. How do I know? During COVID, I ate at home so often that I nearly emptied the freezers of frozen leftovers. Still, I’m sure the meat is a couple years old at least. The dogs will love it.

I put a chicken breast in the oven. I’d grilled it last week. I pulled out a carryout box of leftover wings from a night out. I put them in foil and poured some Jack Daniels Barbecue sauce over them. I turned the oven on and set the timer for 32 minutes.

I drove the pickup down and across the lower yard and backed up to the new terraced gardens. New as in 2022. The daffodils have all fallen over and are browning. Soon, they will be gone til next spring. I need to plant other things in the 2022 beds. But tonight my job is to empty the truck. There were big bags of mulch. They were wet and so heavy. It hurt to drag them across the tailgate and wrap them in my arms and carry up the stone steps. There was no question of cutting them open, emptying them and spreading the mulch. That will have to wait til another day.

I have to sweep out the truck bed this morning before I take it to work so my friends can borrow it.

They are moving away at the end of this month.


So few friends left, and I’m losing two close ones. We get along so well.

They have downsized a lot. They gave me four of Barbara’s big canopic jars.

“Of course I want them!”

(Where will I put them? Of course. In the bathroom! She kept them in her bath with the wall of Nile tiles.)

Where did this leave off last week?

Oh yeah.

Lovers, lunatics and poets—the quote and sentiment from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That movie was a week ago Thursday night at the Weinberg. I didn’t have much time to order my thoughts by the time that story needed to be given to the editor on Friday morning.

It is pretty clear what lovers and lunatics have in common. I’ve been crazy in love before. And I’ve been just plain crazy as well. Exactly what makes a poet as crazy as a lover and a lunatic?

Well… a poet must be mad to think that anyone would care about his innermost thoughts or the words he wishes to create from his mind via his eyes and hand.


A poet as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure, virtue, and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best, the wisest, and the most illustrious of men.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Now THAT is crazy!

The weekend was books, of course.

My wacky nephew returned a load of vintage superhero comics. Most are from the 60s. He had graded and priced each. Notes were written on a Post It affixed to each. Issues I’d had as a kid were worth hundreds of dollars.

I’d gone through the Senator’s books earlier. They were all inscribed. Many had warm sentiments written on the front free endpaper from other senators. I think there must be a senate rule that every senator must write a book. Or ten. There were about ten from Moynihan alone.

Senator's Books

Then the Australian bookseller texted and said he was at BWI and would be at the warehouse in about an hour. I wasn’t sure he was coming. I hadn’t gotten a response to my email asking for confirmation.

The day was over by the time he arrived. I gave him a tour of the warehouse, and then we went to New Market Plains Vineyard. We sat out on the lawn at a wooden picnic table and chatted with the owners, Howard and Sue. It was an idyllic Sunday afternoon. I ordered pizza for the 5 of us, and we chatted and ate and drank good wine til dusk was becoming dark.

The rest of the week was dominated by Karl’s visit. He was born in Finland and migrated to Australia long ago. His dad was an embassy official, I think.

He went to a store on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We went to dinner on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

There was a concert Wednesday night at the Weinberg I wasn’t aware of. I’ve been too busy to check schedules.

Nancy Wilson’s Heart. Heart. Not my favorite band. Did I ever have any of their albums? She’s touring without her sister currently.

“Any chance you have tickets?” I emailed the box office. I have a good relationship with the theater.

“Back in the balcony, I’m afraid.”

“Ok. Two please. If anything better opens up, please move me.”

A few minutes later, I got another email. Some of the “Artists’ seats” were released, and Karl and I ended up in Row K. The show was a lot of fun. She’s just a little older than I.

If she can rock, so can I.

After the show, I took Karl back to the warehouse, and we shook hands goodbye. He was flying to Chicago on Thursday to buy more books from my friends at Powell’s.

He pulled a lot of books from the stores.

Australia Pulls

He picked some from the warehouse.

He seemed excited to order a lot from the 2.5 million online.

It was a fun week going out all night.

Partying every night like I’m a kid.

A bunch of old Dylan sheet music books came in.

Dylan Sheet Music

I used to play my guitars every night.


I got busy.

I pulled out the Martin D-28 almost exactly one year ago.

It wasn’t pretty. But if I tried, I could still do it…

A light drizzle patters on the leaves outside my bedroom window. Most of what I write is supine on my king bed. Songbirds trill out in the forest. This little bit of rain is not enough to refresh the parched earth. Early morning minutes tick by. I must rise soon and face the day.

Truckloads of new books are coming. Monday. Wednesday. Friday. 40,000 or so in each. It was a surprise that the orders were rolling in virtually on top of one another. I’ve forgotten what the plans had been before the first truck backed to the dock on Monday morning. When I was told what we had to look forward to, all resources were diverted to making space. 126 pallet-size “footprints” needed to be generated. I strode around every part of the enormous warehouse that could possibly give us hope. If we thrust a lot of human resources into it, I think we can make it work. So throughout the building where pallets can be stored—you can’t put pallets in offices or in aisles of shelved books—we looked for spaces where things can be tightened up. We looked for pallets that could be stacked—if you go “up” square footage becomes cubic footage.

When all the advice and planning were done, I threw myself into the breach.

I really enjoy the physical interaction with books. I interacted with thousands and thousands of books on Monday and Tuesday.

It is Wednesday morning.

(The precipitation has picked up. It is actually raining. I can almost feel the moisture soaking into the forest floor. That reminds me—the redbuds I transplanted nearly two months ago—I checked on the five I planted on the “mound” most of the way down the long steep driveway. The two I thought were dead each had a couple green leaves. Like the white tree of Gondor, there is just a trace of life left in them. Hope… Can a tree survive with one live leaf?)

Wednesday morning. A pair of VTOL planes just flew low over the house. It is a rare event, but occasionally military aircraft roar over slowly just above the forest canopy. Sometimes it is a helicopter or three. My guess is the flights are related to Camp David that is a few miles north of here on the same mountain ridge. Catoctin. South Mountain. Why else would they patrol over largely unpopulated mountain forest?

My arms and legs still ache a bit from yesterday’s workout. After getting the “space making” activated through the warehouse, I thought my best way to contribute would be to empty pallets of books. There’s a type of pallet we generate which perhaps I haven’t written about before.

DNA Pallets

This DNA pallet is taller than I am. Sorters create them. The boxes are filled with paper stuff. All of it is material that has no barcode or ISBN number. Micro histories of small places or events that someone went to the effort of writing a small book or pamphlet about. They need rescuing too. Though the carts will not likely turn a profit after folks in data entry add them to the internet and shelve them to await orders from around the world.

A lot of it is just trash, though. Worthless magazines. Heavy, heavy boxes of paper.

How many thousands of pieces of paper did I lift out of boxes?

These were all distilled to carts for online sale.

DNA Examples

Somebody somewhere may want to know about the sinks of Gandy Creek (whatever they are.)

Other DNA items went to boxes for the stores.

Or to “pulp” Gaylords to be recycled into paper for future books.

(The rain is such a sweet sound outside my bedroom window. But now I need to rise and shower and… once more into the breach!)

There was only one public comment on last week’s story. That is usually a bad sign. But this comment was a jewel:


This week’s essay was particularly elegant, varied and informative…

Randall Jarrell is one of my old heroes. I used to correspond with his widow Mary and have a few photos and tsotschkes she sent me, not to mention multiple copies of his books.

It was sent by my friend and bibliohero Michael Dirda.

Over 300 consecutive weeks of these, and I wonder weekly if it is worth the effort. I don’t despair. I write them mostly for myself. Therapy and memory and preserving my little bit of bookselling history at the final quarter of the 20th and first quarter of the 21st century. That’s enough.

Well, perhaps there’s not just a little bibliopathology in the words as well.

Crazy as a lunatic, lover and wannabe poet.

But if Michael Dirda credits me with elegance… well, that is a laurel mantle enough to keep me going.

After all, he knows more about books and writers and critiquing good and bad writing than anyone in the world.

And Karl… it turns he came here because he had somehow found the blog. The four evenings we shared were often punctuated by surprise questions about my life and these stories.

“I really liked the one about the ‘hillbillies’ …”


(Oh, that one. Was it written in 2017? An anecdote about a bizarre house call the 80s?)

Surprised and caught off guard a little by evening’s wine and the day’s bibloexhaustion, all I could think of in reply was, “Yeah. That was a very big knife the guy pulled out on me.”

So, though there hasn’t been a penny generated by all this work, Karl is spending a good deal of money at Wonder Book.

Maybe the past 6 years of stories (as of July 2023) have just been an advertisement for Wonder Book & Video.

300 plus infomercials.

If so, what a great joke by the pantheon of book gods whose works I’ve peddled my whole adult life.

(I look to the heavens and say, “Very funny, Erato, Thalia, Calliope, Cadmus and you others. Yet another tease from Elysian Fields. Very a-musing.”)

The gods must be crazy…

Cadmus Editions

16 Comments on Article

  1. Charlie Downs commented on

    Chuck – Started my Saturday drinking my morning coffee and reading your blog. I always enjoy it. The rest of my day will be spent weeding my garden and planting a few more things. Have a great weekend!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Charlie.
      It is great to hear from you.
      I really appreciate the encouragement !

  2. Rick Banning commented on

    Well,Chuck, yes Michael Dirda is always a good read, even though I gravitate towards books with great illustrations instead of Michael’s quirky favorites. As for Sinks of Gandy Creek, it’s a wonderful summer cave in West Virginia in which you get quite wet from a through trip. Regards, Rick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is funny Rick!
      I don’t if I’ll get to the sinks any time soon but I’m glad you solved the mystery.

  3. Mike Hassel Shearer commented on

    Sorry I have not written before. I make time alone to read your newsletter. No Emma our beagle puppy or my wife wanting my attention. Please keep writing. Mike

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That’s funny Mike!
      Thank you for reading and tasking the time to write!

  4. Ken Jacobs commented on

    Chuck, *I* look forward to reading your blog each week! I have it on my weekly Google calendar. Each week it is refreshing and unique. I have only been outside the US (England) and that was 40 years ago. But I did chance to meet James Herriot who signed his book I was reading on the plane. So keep your day job as a traveling agent for those of us who do not travel and draw your knight’s sword to rescue helpless print.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind Ken!
      Thank you so much for reading the story and writing your sentiments.

  5. W. commented on

    I have that “Old Nags Head” book. Nice little look at that community in the “Old-timey days” that was published in what is now considered the “Old-timey days.”

    I don’t know about the sinks of Gandy Creek, but, based on the cover photo, it looks similar to a creek not that far away from where I live called Sinking Creek. Sinking Creek is a creek that flows normally until it reaches a limestone sinkhole (a sink) and flows underground for a couple of miles before reappearing above ground. Water and limestone do interesting things when combined together over thousands of years.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Very cool!
      Thank you for the info!
      And thanks for reading the story!

  6. Jeff commented on

    Regarding those Heinlein novels, as a chronic book-shopper, I’m curious: What distinguishes silverfish damage from other forms of insect damage or signs of damage or age?

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks for writing Jeff!
      Silverfish are so thin – almost 2 dimensional.
      They can get between books.
      That’s unlike crickets and other insect vermin.
      They often eat the “ink” off a dust jacket and not the paper!I guess some inks are tastier than others.
      They can leave “trails” across books and jackets.
      They can actually get in between pages of a closed book and chew on that paper in a similar way.
      I’ll try to take some images for a future story. Maybe this week!

  7. Patricia Reidy Lawrence commented on

    Chuck – I lost my husband back in January (I was the one who commented then) and have been creating my new life, but it comes in fits and starts. I found solace in books during his illness and since. Your blog has become must-reading though sometimes I only get to them later. I am fascinated by your “book business” and love your travelogues to so many places we did not get to visit. (I am so impressed by your step counts!) I had a career in data processing, but my all-time favorite job was a little part time gig shelving books in the public library. Surrounded by books and putting chaos back into order. Heaven! I get it and you do it on a grand scale. Please keep writing!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you dos much for the encouragement!
      I remember your very touching (heartrending) messages. I was proud to be a part the “helped” of such a monumentally sad time.
      I need to figure out a trip!
      You should consider coming to Wonder Book and doing some book shelving!
      Let me know.


      1. Thomas C. Sokolosky-Wixon, Jr. replied on

        I am usually a few weeks behind, I like to Save them so I have them to look forward to. Please keep writing and know there are loads of us who look forward to your posts.
        Your Bookplate Friend!

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thanks Tommy!

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