It’s Not Real—It’s Digitized

It’s hard to believe I would be 12 days further behind if I had gone to the Baltic.

How much harder can I work?

Part of the issue in recent weeks has been the “Chuck Kill” carts. These are from sections that we designated for “medium or better” books—books $20 to $75. So every book on each of those shelves was supposedly a good book. When loaded on carts with their spines out, I can’t just breeze by most of them—I have to make snap decisions: Stores, internet, Books by the Foot, research… 

Every single book needs an individual gaze. Many need to be removed because their spine lettering is dull, or there is no spine, or I need to look inside to determine a date or edition.

The decision for each book is also a little more difficult. 

They’ve already spent some years on, so unless I reduce the price or see some intriguing factor, why try the same thing again?

But seven or eight years ago, our pricing was occasionally more “ambitious” for unusual items. 

If I find a book we had online for $55, and I think it merits a second chance, I might start it at $19.95 online—if it has enough appeal. 

Many are going to the stores at much lower prices. MANY. So if you like eccentric or esoteric or small niche books, then I suggest you start searching the stores—often. 

There’s a lot of VERY unusual vintage medicine and psychology titles going to all three stores from the vast Gach hoard. Much of it is not in English. I’m betting the staff will stock them in foreign language—as they traditionally should. So if you like 19th- or early 20th-century Psych, be sure to look in the German section (stocked with books about Germany). There will be fewer items in Spanish or Italian. But the more you dig, the more treasures you’ll find.

There’s a lot of autographed material, as well. You can tell by the little white “signed” tag sticking out of the top edge of the book.

And ephemera… there’s so much ephemera going to all the stores. More than ever, Wonder Book shops are great for treasure hunting and experiencing the serendipity that draws your eyes and hands to hitherto unknown items.

Of course the place is well-organized, so if you want an Asian cookbook or a copy of Poe’s works, you can go directly to those respective sections.

There are a lot of beautiful 19th- and early 20th-century bindings going out, as well. I’ve learned (finally) that these beautifully bound books, which often feature obscure titles or authors, need to be seen in person to captivate a bibliophile. So if you go to the stores, don’t look so much in General Fiction for highly decorative publishers’ bindings. Look, rather, in the “Pretty Book” sections, in the “New Arrival” sections or the top shelves. At the Frederick store, be sure to peruse the glass cases. All the Brodart-ed books now have price stickers on their spines, so you needn’t wonder if it is worth the trouble to get someone to unlock it for you. With a glance, you can ascertain if the book is a bargain or if it is, in your opinion, priced a little too steeply.

I worked so hard this weekend. I’ve no idea how many carts I processed. Maybe one week I will count them. 

I filled, lifted, carried and stacked about 70 bankers boxes.

Those are all books heading to the three stores to keep the stock fresh for you.

Ten hours straight Saturday. Ten Sunday.

The physical labor is good for me. By Sunday’s end, I was tired. But I wasn’t sore. All my joints were just “warm”—glowing. My body glowed all night Saturday and Sunday and into Monday.


Travis and I were heading back northwest to Frederick from Gaithersburg. Books by the Foot has a huge order for “woodworking” (not carpentry). Ninety-five linear feet. It won’t be easy to fill, I warned them. I went through the various crafts sections on a kind of exploratory expedition to see just how tough it would be. That’s not an area I spend much time in. I’m not very crafty. We will stage what we have and send images to see if we are on the right track. My muscles were still kind of tired from the weekend’s lifting. I could tell because my joints were aglow all over again as we headed back to the warehouse with 30 or so big plastic tubs filled with books.

Last week’s story had a lot of mysticism in it. A couple friends were a little concerned. It’s ok. There’s only so much of that kind of stuff you can get wound up in before you can get wound a little too tight.

But it has been a period of a deep contemplative life brought on by so many unhappy changes in the last few months (on top of those of the last few years).

Plus, so much time alone gives one plenty of time for introspection.

Signs. Omens. Portents. Coincidences. 

On Wednesday, I came across The Oxford Anthology of Mystical Poetry. I’m struggling to let books go, but that is one that will become a bed partner soon. It is bound as so many Oxford literary and poetry books are: uniform dark blue buckram with the title horizontal near the top of the spine. There are so many Oxford Anthologies. A collection would make a very impressive bookcase.

(Don’t even think of it!)

Football began this weekend. English soccer had the weekend off for international “friendly” matches. So I put on the afternoon game as background noise while I worked. The early game was the Ravens. I used to be interested in them because my younger son is a rabid Ravens fan. (I don’t think you can get rabies from birds). They are named after Poe’s “raven.” Literature and football—an odd couple. Poe had some Baltimore connections. He died in the city. Maybe dead drunk on election day with booze handed out to get you to vote the right way.

For many years, there was a mysterious person who would appear late at night on Poe’s birthday and place a red rose on his “grave”—or, rather, the cenotaph that marks his original burial site. Before his reburial in 1875, Poe was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the Poe family plot. 

Newspapers ran stories every year: Who was the mystery man? (Why was he dressed all in black wearing a wide-brimmed hat?) Nowadays, with cameras on every corner and in every pocket, the mystery wouldn’t last nearly as long as it did then. 

A tortured writer. Only 40 years old. 

I used to collect anything about Poe. I’ve been finding a lot of it in my old library from Pennsylvania. I took a little pamphlet to bed last week: Poe Sites in Richmond, Virginia. I was flipping through it and came upon a story I didn’t recall about him.

It is more a 50-page booklet than a pamphlet, and it was published in 1994 by Danny Morris. “Available at Between Book-Ends” in Richmond.

In the story, he was visiting a house called Talavera. It was the home of Susan Archer Talley Weiss, an acquaintance. He visited there frequently in the late summer and early fall of 1849. He’d read and discussed The Raven and The Poetic Principle with the Talleys. On September 26, he spent the afternoon discussing his happiness about his engagement to Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. He was leaving Richmond to join her in New York. In Susan Talley’s biography of Poe, she writes that as he departed, he turned on the walkway for one last tip of his hat to his hosts. She goes on to say that a brilliant meteor appeared over his head and vanished. It may have been prophetic, as his short life burned out under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore not 10 days later—October 7, 1849. He never made it back to New York.

It is Thursday morning. Brilliant blue and green outside my bedroom window. The temperature is in the low 60s.

I screwed up my right shoulder Monday evening. I’d spent the day lifting books and pushing carts and filling and hoisting boxes. Sometimes I feel I am as much machine as man.

Industrial book sorting
Legions of books roll by
I make instant determinations
as to their fates
My hands arms are assembly lines
Eyes and mind are scanners
Faster faster
They are pressing from behind
The pressure is building
The hordes push against me
Oh, but it was so good
I was technician and machine
Add that to the C.V.
Long ago I was the inventor

I’d brought home 40 bags of composted manure to fill the new beds. I climbed onto the pickup and tossed them off. Then I went and picked up a load of firewood. A big dead ash blew down in the storm last weekend. It blocked the lane. Neighbors cut it up before I got home. I offered to take it, even though I don’t need more. I backed into the barn and tossed it in.

The drive and paths and deck were covered with storm debris. A bit manic, I decided to get the leaf blower out. It is a big commercial model. Maybe 50 pounds. Two straps—one for each arm—and you carry it on your back. I took a shortcut and hefted it onto just one shoulder and began pushing leaves and twigs and bark out of the way with a jet of air. As I was walking down the hill, the machine started slipping off. I overcompensated, and the thing fell—dropping heavily onto my forearm and yanking down on my arm and shoulder.


I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder and on my forearm.


My shoulder hurt so badly that I had trouble sleeping that night. I couldn’t find a comfortable position. There’s a huge bruise on my forearm.

Depressed that I would have a long recovery like after my Egyptian “step” injury, I was in a funk. 

I drove one-handed to work on Tuesday. I was confronted by a large herd of carts. There were carts from Larry and Nelson, as well. And some “Chuck Kills” carts too. 

I proceeded as a one-armed bookman. I’ve done it before. Damned inconvenient.

On one cart, I saw a gleaming gem.

A gorgeous Dickens’ Christmas Carol

A Riviere binding, certainly. 

Yep. The tiny embossed gold name is stamped there at the foot of the front pastedown.

I processed carts most of the day. I was a little slower, but the pressure pushed me to be as fast as I could.

That evening, I went home with ambitious plans but was just too sore. I did force myself to carry some stacks of books up to the Garret. If I can get all the loose books out of the Great Room, there will just be flotsam and jetsam to clear up. And then I can ask Perla to clean it properly—for the first time since early 2021, when I lost my last housekeeper.

(LOTS of flotsam and jetsam.)

I watched a good deal more of I, Claudius. It is a perfect literary miniseries, in my opinion. Great writing, acting and historical interpretation.

When I needed to raise my right arm, I used my left to lift it.

That night, I slept a bit better. Maybe the injury was just temporarily acute and wouldn’t be the chronic thing that the Egyptian “trip” caused. That finally had me get cortisone shots in the joints. (Yikes!)

When I got in on Wednesday, the surge of carts had not ebbed. 

I don’t get it? What’s different? 

I got a call from a county library book sale director. He was “very disappointed” with our very low payment. I explained that we were “very disappointed” as well. The books looked like someone’s pulp. It just didn’t add up. No book sale would put stuff like this on their tables.

There were 20-some pallets like that. They’ve been here since July taking up space. It would be an expensive waste to go through. I’m tempted just to pulp them as is. 

“Do you want them back? They’re still here.”

“I’ll be sure to tell other book sales how you treated us.”

“There’s something wrong here. I’m not sure what happened at your end. The books are worthless. Actually, they have ‘negative value.’ They are costing us money to store and will be a big drag on resources if we ever decide to go through them.”

I told him I would send a “donation” for $500 but I wouldn’t pay for the books.

That certainly had me grumpy. I really wonder what happened. The books couldn’t be worse if it had been on purpose. Some mix-up, I hope.

Nelson came up to gather his check. He doesn’t trust the mail system, perhaps. He’d wanted $3,500—mostly for the Bradburys. I’d wanted to pay $1,500. We’d settled on $2,700.

“You can tell it is a good deal if it hurts both of us. Hey, I didn’t know you were left-handed.”

“I’ve only written you a couple thousand checks over the years,” I chuckled.

Then I decided it was time to open the package from Type Punch Matrix. Rebecca Romney had sent me an offer for a true gem. The book had arrived last Friday, but I just hadn’t had the time to open it.

A Highspot Of Gilded Age Book Design

Illuminated manuscript of Ecclesiastes
Created by Frederic W. Goudy
[circa 1890s]

Rare American Arts and Crafts style illuminated manuscript on vellum by the designer credited with leading the American revival in hand-lettering.

“Mr. Goudy did more to rescue typography from standardized ugliness than any other man since William Morris, whose spiritual descendant he was.” NEW YORK TIMES Obituary, May 12, 1947

One of the best known American type designers of the 20th century, Goudy made an in-depth study of letterforms and their history. Many of his typefaces and book designs are directly informed by his historical research, from examples of the Italian Renaissance, to German blackletter, to Roman monumental capitals. Goudy began his artistic career as a lettering artist; his student, the type designer Oswald Cooper, credited Goudy with beginning the American revival in hand-lettering.

Goudy was greatly influenced by William Morris, who studied medieval arts and early printing in an ambitious project to re-evaluate every aspect of book production; Morris’s Kelmscott Press was the inspiration for Goudy’s own Village Press. This manuscript is clearly a production in the same spirit, forming a detailed study in the making of an illuminated manuscript, and bound in a manner informed by manuscript-era techniques in the Middle East, such as the Timurid and Safavid styles (though with certain conscious departures, like the lack of the otherwise characteristic flap).

The source text is ECCLESIASTES, one of the Wisdom Books of the Hebrew Bible. The American Arts and Crafts aesthetic is reflected in the brilliant painted borders, with additional touches that indicate the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and a burgeoning Art Nouveau tone. While members of the fine press movement in England were known to create similar illuminated manuscripts – most famously, Sangorski & Sutcliffe – American examples, especially from a figure as significant as Goudy, are even more rare, and few offer as many original illustrations as the present example.

With 49 unique polychromatic painted borders and a stunning full-page illuminated tailpiece, it is a sumptuous work of art by one of America’s most important book designers.

Full title: Ecclesiastes or the preacher. n.p.: n.p. 8.25’’ x 5.25’’. Original full brown goatskin, elaborately gilt-embossed floral borders, central medallion gilt-embossed within interior, gilt-embossed corners within frame. Burgundy goatskin doublures with gilt-bordered blue-ground central and cornerpiece cutouts ornamented with leather filigree work. Top and bottom edges gilt. 56 folio vellum leaves, most of which are illuminated on one side with the blank side adhered to its facing blank (mimicking a construction that reaches back to pre-modern Chinese bookbinding). Borders illuminated in floral, geometric, and figural designs in various color palettes. 112 pages (including endpapers). Signed by Goudy on the title page. Joints and one part of border on rear board expertly repaired, filigree work partially rubbed away on rear pastedown only. A few blanks have come apart from their paired neighbors, a couple instances of cracking at gutter: overall crisp and bright. Near fine.

Read more: Bruckner, Frederic Goudy; Design History: An Anthology.

But it was the images that knocked me out. Like Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows, my eyes started spinning and perhaps I uttered, “Poop, poop, poop.”

Rebecca and her partner, Brian Cassidy, are doing amazing things at Type Punch Matrix. Check them out.

Wednesday night I stayed late working on carts. 

So many wonderful books. It is fun but overwhelming. Like too much candy or rich food or single malt. (I miss the single malts most, I think. More than gin. Just the occasional martini now. I’ve switched to champagne—in small doses).

I went home too exhausted to do much of anything. When was the last time I ate out? It was almost two weeks ago! With Michael and Marian Dirda. A wonderful evening. The food was great. The conversation better. 

At least the freezer is nearly empty now—mostly due to the three happy dogs.

I watched the last few episodes of I, Claudius

“Let all the poison that lurks in the mud, hatch out.” 

Robert Graves, I, Claudius

I learned more Roman history from watching that when I was a kid than I did from the ancient history courses I enjoyed in college. 

Did you know Claudius became the god of the Britons?

[Claudius]… was worshipped in Britannia in his own temple in Camulodunum.

Claudius was deified by Nero and the Senate almost immediately [after he died]…

In 43, Claudius sent Aulus Plautius with four legions to Britain (Britannia) after an appeal from an ousted tribal ally. Britain was an attractive target for Rome because of its material wealth: mines and the potential of slave labor, as well as being a haven for Gallic rebels. Claudius himself traveled to the island after the completion of initial offensives, bringing with him reinforcements and elephants. The Roman colonia of Colonia Claudia Victricensis was established as the provincial capital of the newly established province of Britannia at Camulodunum, where a large temple was dedicated in his honour.


He brought elephants to England. Incredible. 

It is Thursday at noon.

I have an early deadline again. My regular editor is still out. Her stand-in leaves early on Fridays.

So many vacations. I’ll be glad when everyone is back. Damned inconvenient. Next they will be wanting Christmas off, too.

 …I should talk. I’ve had some great trips in 2023. I’m supposed to fly to Paris next Wednesday.

Maybe I offset some of it by working every day when I’m in Maryland. 

I… I… think I’ll have to cancel it. I just can’t get my head into it. Then there are the dogs. 

I have a grandson due in the next week or so, too!

And… things are just not great upstairs. 

Upstairs as in my head.

Maybe if I could get the books on the shelves, my life would get in order. An ordered life is a happy life.

My arm is much better but still weak and hard to extend.

The first Wonder Book movie at the Weinberg is tonight!

Willy Wonka. 

Not one of my choices. 

I never really understood it. It seems a little twisted for a children’s movie. But then Dahl seemed a little twisted, as well.

My arm’s too screwed up to do any gardening… but maybe I could cut and empty some of the 100 bags or so of mulch and manure.

I don’t need any firewood. 

It would be excruciating to pull the cord on a chainsaw.

I need to finish the fairy story. I keep finding reasons to put it off.

I’m looking forward to winter and fires in the wood stove. 

There was a big thunderstorm the other night. It had poor Giles upset and panting on the bed next to me. Poor stupid dog. What’s to become of him?

There was a gorgeous dawn. 

I’m looking forward to winter, when I will open up the view with some “vista pruning” and selective culling of the canopy. Best to do that when the ground is frozen.

I found a pawpaw patch last week while clearing brush at a blind spot along the lane. 

What do you do with pawpaws? My southern parents likely knew.

A few weeks ago, there was a very late fledge of swallows on the loading dock. They’ll be flying south soon.

The garden cacti at the warehouse are having late re-blooms, too. That has been one of the few high spots in the gardens this year.

Hot and dry.

Maybe I’ll dig some more potatoes tonight. I know there are some left. 

This was another fun find this week. A broken set of Frank Norris. But I could tell from the binding it was likely an author’s edition and would probably be autographed. 

Better than that, it had a page of manuscript from McTeague.

McTeague, novel by Frank Norris, published in 1899. The work was considered to be the first great portrait in American literature of an acquisitive society.


Pretty cool… 

We’ve been pushing the “creative” in Books by the Foot, and we’ve launched new stacks and bundles

(“Irish Stout” and “Love Is in the Air” are my creations… LOL.)

“We’ve got lemons. Let’s make lemonade,” was my challenge.

This is maybe the most important part of the book story. 

The importance of physical media.

I’ve sung this mantra and warned of mutable media for many, many years. 

It doesn’t just apply to movies or music being expurgated or otherwise altered for modern whims and political correctness.

Books too… do you trust… whoever you “stream” your digital books from—a megacorp, I would assume—do you feel they won’t put their own twists on Oliver Twist? It’s Not Real—It’s Digitized

I brought home an old Bose Wave CD player. It is far different playing an “album” the way the artists intended. I put on the Beatles White Album one night while I was cooking and cleaning. I got one of the early copies of the LP set the day it was released. It was numbered on the front. I probably still have it… somewhere. It took me back to that day when a kid struggled to undo the shrinkwrap of the 12-inch by 12-inch white paperboard sleeve. I used a fingernail and finally broke the seal. I slid the LP out and put it on the turntable. I lifted the tone arm and set the needle down as gently as possible on the edge of the record. There was a soft “pop,” a brief hiss, and then: jet engines roaring!

Back in the U.S.S.R…. 

It’s Friday morning. In the 50s! The view out of my window is bright blue and green. The windows are open. It’s cool enough that Giles is pushed up against me. 

The big goofy galoot. 

I’ve finished the hand corrections to this story. There were a lot. Most of it was pecked out with my left forefinger since my right arm wasn’t working well this week. I’ve got to cancel the Paris flight and hotel today. I’ll make plans for October soon. I don’t know where. 

I’ve got to shower and drive this down the mountain and deliver it to my editor as early as possible. 

It’s a hard copy with ink corrections and additions. 

And there is a deadline!

12 Comments on Article

  1. Great Blog. Enjoyed reading the Sept. 15, 2023 edition- made me think about some of my older books, what to do with them, etc and streaming I, Claudius.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I hope you do and enjoy it.
      It is truly an immersion in the “real” (according to Graves) Rome of Augustus and the subsequent emperor/gods.
      Thank you for writing and commenting!

  2. Michael Dirda commented on

    A particularly rich and meaty essay this week, Chuck. As usual, “the days are just packed, “as one of the Calvin and Hobbes album’s is titled.
    What’s more, I find it slightly eerie that on my own nightstand next to my bed is The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. I probably bought it at Wonder Books.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Great minds think alike?
      Or perhaps I am channelling the “Master”?
      Interesting inclusions in that volume.
      Blake of course. But some writers I’ve never read.
      I’m hooked after St John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich.
      When I visited Patmos last spring and was in the cave where the Book of Revelation was written I got the feeling there are greater things on heaven and earth than have ever been dreamt of …

      If not – it is a fun spacy exploration of others’ madness.

      Thanks so much Michael.


  3. Charlie Downs commented on

    My grandmother used to always say “Getting old is no disgrace but it’s damned inconvenient”. Hope you heal up quickly Chuck.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Charlie.
      Getting better every day … LOL.
      Great to hear from you.

  4. Lauren Baker commented on

    Thank you for sharing that book with us, it is exquisite. I would be afraid to touch it to look at it.

    The wave is great, wonderful sound. You need to place it correctly to get the full benefit. You should also be able to connect a turntable to use its speakers. It requires an inexpensive device you can pick up on amazon to do so.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you!
      It does have great sound and is so easy to operate.

  5. Kelly W commented on

    We’ve found Paw Paw trees out in the wild near the C&O canal. We ate them right there and then. Very smooth when ripe. We may go hiking tomorrow to find them again. Home brewers will make beer with them also. If you watch in the spring, the blossoms are very unique. Thanks for the great stories. Hope your arm heals quickly.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Very cool!
      I will keep an eye out for them!
      Thank you so much for reading and writing!

  6. Gregory commented on

    Getting to this post a bit late. I am curious about the topic of your books-by-the-foot order “woodworking (not carpentry).” What on earth IS that? What’s left after you have removed the carpentry from the woodworking?

    Hope your shoulder has recovered by now.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Designers can speak a different language.
      We finally parsed that they didnt want “construction”.
      So we went for craft projects, antiques, furniture …
      We pushed the envelope some with “trees” …
      I hope they like them.
      That id a lot of books on a small subject.
      Thanks for writing!

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