In Like a Lamb

William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

2023 comes in like a lamb.

Sunday, New Year’s Day, was in the 60s. Sunny. Calm. It was a pleasure to go out in the dockyard and throw milk-bones or cut up hotdogs for the dogs to chase. They enjoyed it too. I set out a scruffy pillow against a south-facing wall. They sat upon it and basked all day.

Today, Monday, will get up to 60. Then 61, 65, 58… then down to the 40s. Christmas Eve—just a week ago—was 3 degrees.


I’m driving down to Gaithersburg with Travis. The first visit in over a month. The remnants of my flu are nearly gone. I feel uncontagious—have been for a while—but still had coughing fits and didn’t want to expose anyone to that in the confines of the van. I haven’t been to the Gaithersburg store since November.

December just vaporized. I was in Spain for the first part. Then I got sick as soon as I got home. Remained sickish through the holidays. Emory… Now it is another year.

Lots of resolutions.

Lots of new duties thrust on me. I’m now the general contractor of the building. There are 5 out of 12 gas-fired ceiling heaters on the docks that aren’t working. It is still warm enough out there, but if 1 or 2 failed, it might be an issue. A dock door—#11—is starting to break. There are so many moving parts in the vast building, so much complicated machinery.


The usual. Maybe this year I will accomplish some.

A main goal is to find new friends and try to reconnect with remaining old friends. I’m tired of being a post-pandemic hermit. Before COVID, there were frequent activities.

Next week, I’ll definitely attend the Wonder Book sponsored classic movie at the Weinberg. The Thin Man! How cool it will be to see Nick and Nora and Asta on the big screen! Then I have tickets for the “Beatles” there as well. 1964 The Tribute have been together for over 30 years. They dress and play and sound just like the 1964 era Beatles. If you squint a bit, they resemble them as well.

Then I will…

Back to Monday. I wonder what my Gaithersburg store will look like. I’m so proud of that shop. It was a mess physically and with dreadful morale prior to COVID.

It looked great. The aisles were clear. Displays were fresh and interesting. The staff was upbeat and eager. I looked around from front to back, side to side—I couldn’t find a problem worth mentioning. I thanked them and praised them, and we headed back up I- 270 to Frederick. Most people considered January 2nd a holiday. Not Wonder Book—though a lot of people had taken off. Internet orders were still pouring in. Usually there is a slump after the Christmas rush. Not this year. And people are buying expensive books as well as cheap ones. I review most of the expensive purchases. It is mostly out of curiosity. I can learn trends by seeing what is going out. Niche cookbooks continue to be very popular. A Norwegian cookbook from the 1940s. A battered Malaysian one from the 50s.

It could be professional chefs looking for old ideas for their ethnic restaurant. But I think a lot of it is descendants looking for things their grandmothers made or lost delicacies that had only been rumors from their childhoods.

I’d made a lot of calls during Christmas week seeking out contractors to fill the vast void left by Emory’s passing. All last weekend, I kept expecting his “KNOCK, KNOCK!” I wonder if the dogs wondered where their McDonald’s Bacon Egg and Cheese biscuits were.

“You take care of my boys.”

I will, Emory.

On Tuesday, we were in business again. When I arrived, “The door guy is here.”

I walked across the building to Dock 11, and Allen from East Coast Doors was high up on a ladder.

“It’s the cable. It slipped.”

Then the compactor guy came. “I can weld the broken arm, but it might not last.”

“Well, go ahead, and if we need to call you back, you’ll know what to bring.” He also fixed an annoying defect on the 2nd compactor at Dock 21.

The HVAC guy arrived with two trainees. (I hope I’m not being charged for 3 guys.) We walked the length of the loading dock from door #1 to #21. I gave him the list of the 5 that weren’t working. “Let me know which ones are repairable in the order of easiest to fix. If any need to be replaced, you can price that out.”

“I’m just the hired monkey. The office will get you quotes.” He chuckled.

Then an electrician came. He is a friend of Clark’s and has an excellent reputation. We walked through the building with its myriad of humming transformers. Then we got to the heart of the building—the electrical room.

Warehouse Electrical Room

“Wow. This is cool… 480 [something, something] … phase [something, something] … I’ve wanted to learn about this stuff, but you need an industrial contractor…”

He gave us some names.

I know a roofer and a plumber.

Maybe we are covered…

My old “dog” Jeep had a flat tire over the weekend. I’d asked the tire company we deal with to order me some a couple of weeks ago. They hadn’t gotten around to it. I hadn’t followed up. They were clearly worn. “Get me the nubbiest ones available. Where I live, traction is important.” I didn’t want to change the flat. My shoulder was aching for some reason. It has been a year since I tripped in Luxor, Egypt. I didn’t trip on any of the thousands of dark uneven stone and wooden steps going down and up into the 40 or so tombs in the barren desert. Embarrassingly, I tripped on the first step going up to the Hilton Bar. (This was BEFORE I had a cocktail.) I fell awkwardly and, “OWW!”, I thought I might have dislocated my shoulder. Although maybe it has been aching recently because of all the bulb planting I’ve been doing.

It would cost a lot of money and time to summon someone to change the tire or tow the Jeep. Then I remembered the SLIME air pump. I use it to inflate tires on equipment like my beloved Polaris ATV/plow. You plug it into a vehicle’s lighter jack. (Do they still call them that?) On Wednesday morning, I did that. Then I went inside and showered. When I went back out, it hadn’t lost any pressure. I took the back way—residential roads and then through town in case I needed to stop and top up the tire. There’s a read out for each tire on the dashboard, and I kept a close eye on that. I parked in front of Rice Tire and went in.

“Andrew, I REALLY need new tires now. Give me the best deal you can on those nubby ones you showed me.”

It is Friday morning. 64 degrees inside. 44 outside. The coldest temperature of 2023 thus far. It has been a beautiful week. One morning I awoke before dawn and it was 59 outside.

I’d put on a fire when I got home last night. The first of the year.

First 2023 Fire

Yesterday at 5, I met two buddies who had kind of gone missing during COVID. I recall vividly when we got together in spring 2020. We sat out in the field on logs about 20 feet apart for safety. We’d each brought our own beers.


That field now has two 52,000 square foot pads on it. The retaining walls are up.

New Warehouse Construction

Those stones are the ones rescued from the excavation. I may get them standing to create my own henge.

Soon the tilt-up concrete slabs will be erected. It will look like a building then.

We met at Hootch & Banter. I had a smoked old fashioned. “It has a maple flavor?”

“Yeah, I used Dickel Maple-Infused Bourbon.”

I wished he’d warned me. I forced it down. My second was a gin martini up very dry with Bombay olives.

I’d seen them both during COVID, but not like this. It was like old times.

“Let’s go to Paris. Or Venice.”

Bob the architect and I had met in Paris during April 2019. We’d had dinner at a wonderful 10-table bistro and then walked to Notre Dame in the dark. The next morning, I was at De Gaulle airport, and he texted me a picture of the cathedral in flames.


On Tuesday, I met with Clark and Joey to go over the stores’ December and 2022 sales figures. The Frederick store had its best month since 90s. Again. Internet bookselling started killing off brick and mortar stores in the late 90s. Wonder Book survived by embracing online sales, which subsidized the floundering stores.

The Gaithersburg store had its best month since Wonder Book rescued it from closing up in 2008.

LPs had a resurgence in December. The Frederick store had a record record month.

Hagerstown… I despair. Flat, despite all the upgrades and improvements. Is it us or something else? Working on it.

Books by the Foot had a bad 4th quarter. For years, it has had consistent double-digit growth. When things are working well, you don’t look at the machinery. We met and saw some obvious flaws on the laptop website and the phone website. We will dissect those pages and see what happens.

It could be the economy.

On Wednesday when I took the Jeep down, the stress of the situation had me forget my phone at home. I stopped at Wegmans on the way to get it. Wegmans is a wonderful vast upscale grocery. I got some 6-grain hard bread to dip into the luscious olive oil I got from Italy. I like canned diet soda and fizzy water. The 12 packs were usually 3 for $11 or $12 on sale. Now they are 2 for $12. I haven’t bought eggs for a while. I went to the long wall of big door glazed coolers. The two egg coolers were empty! Well, they had about 6 lonely cartons scattered on a shelf. $3.99. They used to be about a buck.

I’ve gotten almost all the bulbs in. There are about 100 allium left. 500 tiny aconites. 30 or so dogtooth lilies.

I got the belladonna lilies in the last two mornings. I think they need a sheltered location. I’m near the border of the lowest safe temperature zone for them. There’s a spot between the upper and lower driveway I call “The Glen.” It is where the “naked ladies” (crocuses) grow. That’s what gave me the idea to plant the similar belladonna lilies (also called naked lady lilies) there. Maybe there’s a bit of a microclimate. Since it is in a depression, it gathers a lot of fallen leaves. There are already a lot of bulbs and perennials down there, so I didn’t want to go digging or chopping into the dirt. I got the idea of shallow planting the nearly fist sized bulbs. I raked away the leaves on a 3 x 3 spot. Then carefully scooped out three depressions in each spot. I set the bulbs in. Then covered them with about a foot of leaves. Then I covered those with tubs of composted manure. They formed little mounds.

Belladonna Lily Mounds

If it works, the leaves will compost under the weight of the soil, and the bulbs will be under 8 or so inches of soft “warm” soil.

We will find out in spring.

I’m really tired of the bulb situation hanging over me. Maybe I’ll get everything in when I get home tonight. Then I can move on to other things.

I finished sorting the mound of paper that had accumulated over several years next to the bed. There were a lot of fun rediscoveries. Places. People. Things. Meals.

The manuscript verse went into a milk crate. I’ll start typing those up and printing them when I can.

There were a lot of printed emails and other correspondence. Some were arguments. Some were brainstorms. Some were particularly nice comments written about these stories. I don’t get a lot, but I appreciate what I do get. I religiously respond to each one. This week, Clark discovered about 20 I hadn’t responded to. I think they got lost in cyberspace. So, if you get a reply to an old blog, that is what happened. Coincidentally, I finished a journal early this week. I think the best place for those printouts is banded in the back of that book.

Journal in Bedroom

That is the now tidy corner next to my bed where the paper mound had been. Those boxes hold the ephemera of my recent life. Tickets, brochures, menus… I don’t know what I’ll do with the dusty pictures of her at the bottom of the pile. I don’t really want to see them any more. For a long time, I thought I had done something wrong. That was wrong, I know now. I’m not crazy. I think.

There was a full box of paper to recycle. Lots of old receipts to file away at work.

Well, it is done. Now to start on the boxes in my office at work.

Wednesday, I got an email from Annika from her workroom in another part of the warehouse.

“Can we meet about some ideas I have?”

“If not today, then tomorrow.”

Thursday, I walked to her room.

“Is this a good time?”


“Let’s go outside where we won’t be interrupted.”

She has come a long way in the 2+ years since she has been here. A true “bookie.” When she attended the virtual CABS bookseller course in 2021, she absorbed a lot of stuff I’ve never had the time or inclination to pursue. The data she gives me on tough to research books now often includes auction records going back to the 19th century with prices realized converted to today’s $$. Populations of books in institutional libraries and where those are—if significant. Comparable listings by other sellers and whether they are foreign or domestic and if she considers them serious booksellers or basement amateurs.

“Have you thought of doing a catalog?”

(GROAN. We have an online catalog of over 2 millions books. We sell thousands of books that way each day. I hated doing catalogs in the old days—most were full-page listings of books I’d offer in the AB Bookman—now extinct. They sold pretty well but were a PIA. You had to deal with remote people one on one, some of whom were… quirky.)


“Let me show you.” She had brought her laptop outside. We sat at a picnic table in the dockyard. The brilliant sun shone upon our backs. It was warm in early January. “Here’s a sample listing.”

It was a signed Stravinsky autobiography that had come in a few months ago. She had done a wonderful job. The signature was inset over an image of the book. Her description was complete but not wordy.


“I… ummm…”

“I could do it on overtime, so it wouldn’t slow down my regular work.” (We have a likely insurmountable backlog of books that we feel merit researching.) “I’m thinking of a couple hundred titles.”

“Whoa! Let’s learn to crawl before you run. You can do a ten-item short list as a prototype. You will need to get a couple of others here involved for the mechanics of taking orders and getting them paid.”

“Cool. Also, I was wondering about doing a book show. I checked, and the Georgetown show has a waiting list.”

(NONONONONO! I hated doing shows after a certain point. The last one I did was in Florida in 2000. The cost-benefit torture ratio wasn’t positive. But I don’t want to snuff out this young person’s idealism.)

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t do it. You’d have to find someone else here to help you. We’d get the books and shelves and tables delivered, but I’m not sitting at the booth…”

“Cool. I’ve been in touch with Eve, and they have space at the Sci Fi Fair in March. It is much smaller and less expensive.”


“Ok. Let’s go look at some of the people’s catalogs on the ABAA site, so you can get ideas about your catalog.”

“Groan,” sotto voce.

Two weeks ago, when the temperature dropped to 3 degrees, the porch roof had about 50 birds pecking away at sunflower seed. Flocks of juncos and goldfinches of about 20 each. Then the usual suspects. The cages of suet cakes hanging from a chain suspended between two trees just beyond the porch attract woodpeckers. Two pairs of downy and 2 pairs of little hairy, as well as the more common ones. Now that it is warmer, there are fewer birds. It is better for them if they can find their own natural foods.

So many books… This beautifully printed William Blake came in.

The paper and the color and the printing are… dramatic.

This was a fun email:


I have maybe an odd request. I was wondering if there was any chance you had a back log inventory of any of your old magnetic calendars, specifically a copy of the 2020 calendar. Me and my boyfriend are huge lovers of the store and stop by all the time to our Hagerstown location, and I realized that I have one for every year we’ve been dating except that one and I wanted to start collecting one of those calendars as sort of a tradition so I didn’t know if there was a possibility you guys would happen to have one laying around the warehouse or one of the locations. I’d totally pay for it too.

If not, no worries—I know it’s an odd request!

Thanks! …

And a stranger has started an Instagram account about our store. @wonderbookfinds. It is cool to think that what we’ve created is a part of some people’s lives.

This comment to last week’s story has me in tears again.

For Emory, my reader and myself…

Charles – I’ve been reading your blog through the COVID years but broke down into tears when reading this entry.  I too lost my Mr Fix-Anything.  My husband passed away on Jan 2 after a long struggle with medical issues, but after a lovely day we spent together on Jan 1.  I did get to say good-bye at the end but my heart is broken like yours to lose such a kind, talented and dependable friend.  I hope you won’t mind if I share your Addendum poem at his memorial and keep a copy at my bedside as I begin my grief journey.

PS I had been sharing some of your travel stories with him as we ourselves didn’t get to enjoy similar plans for our retirement.  Please keep the stories coming.

6 Comments on Article

  1. Sam Cuthbert commented on

    Dear Chuck:
    I am a big fan of Wonderbooks and have bought many, many books at both the Hagerstown and Frederick stores. The problem with the Hagerstown store is its … location. Second and Charles is not as good a bookstore as Wonderbooks, but it has the more upbeat location and is always busy. I always loved the first location of the Hagerstown Wonderbooks! I have been to many used bookstores in my day, but Wonderbooks is the best anywhere. Many great books have I extracted from her shelves! Keep up the good work!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Sam.
      You’re correct.
      We have added a lot of lights and upgraded everything.
      We needed to renew during covid otherwise we may have looked for options.
      I appreciate your comments and we will try to address what we can.

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

        Another great entry. I may catch up yet! I have been part of our hosting Bishop Vitaliy of Kyiv. I was thurifer for his Mass and it is good to know his request was for Prayers rather than money. We know where the money we give him goes unlike our government. He loves books & loved my bookplate collection. Pray for Ukraine.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thanks Tommy!
          Plates en route


  2. smbruner commented on

    I know exactly the feeling you have about the book sales. Hold fast. She represents your legacy. We need her and ones like her to keep Wonderbooks wonderful long after. Let her enthusiasm buoy you when you feel the “but I have done that before and…..” It is all new to her and exciting. It will be a great adventure for sure.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      You are correct!
      We are working on it.
      Thanks for the reminder.

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