Let’s Have a Meeting and 6th Anniversary

Lord of the Rings MMPs

Blue of the jay
Red of the cardinal
Dun, black and gray
of the birds that don’t advertise

There was a small flock of jays on the porch roof this morning. They flew off in a blue and verbal cacophony when I opened the bay window. I tossed the morning seed out into the plastic suction cupped window feeders and then cast what was left in the scoop across the porch roof.

“Damn. I’ve got to find Buddha.”

About a week ago, I opened the right-side bay widow sidelight, and the old cast-iron four-inch Buddha head rolled out and across the porch roof, and I heard it thump onto the garden below. I know about where it landed. I keep forgetting to retrieve it when I’m working down there. I’m pretty sure the housekeeper moved the head when the windowsill was being cleaned. She is incredibly detail oriented. I’ve found things which have been cleaned that I didn’t know could be—much less things I asked about. Poor Buddha was leaning against the sash, I guess, and when I lifted the window, he tumbled out.

“Just don’t touch the books!” I asked her. I’m afraid she might try to clean them.

Putting out bird food is an every morning ritual all year. Typically, it is the first thing I do on my way to let the dogs out one at a time.

It brings me pleasure to have a visitor or a couple dozen anytime I pass by the big bay window, which is the path I take most frequently in my house.

I never tire of the “view.”

Chuck's View

I will get some tree people in this winter to trim some of the canopy and side branches which are growing into the vista.

It is called “vista pruning.” I won’t take any trees down, just sort of give some of them a “haircut.”

Speaking of which…

Friday, July 21, 2023

5 a.m.

I just searched for the first of these blogs. “First Books” is the title. Dated July 27, 2017. That was a Thursday?


Little did I know that was the beginning of an unbroken streak of 314 weekly posts.

So this story will end the 6th year of them. Some weeks, there have been more than one story posted. So maybe there are 350 different stories.

Next week will begin a 7th year if I don’t cast the project aside.

I have printed each of them out. They now fill two milk crates. They are both overflowing a bit. Time for a third one. People bring us books in milk crates.

I like hard copies of important things. I feel things can get lost in space—cyberspace.

Why save them?

I save a lot of stuff.

But I am proud of this little mountain of words. It signifies… what?

I suppose “trying.”

Six years or 314 weeks—of trying.

It is a cool morning in the hot dry summer of 2023. Mid 60s out in the dark.

So much of my contemplative life is spent in the dark. Fewer distractions, I suppose. Less chance the eye and mind will wander.

The world has changed a great deal in 6 years. Crazy things like a Plague. COVID dominated much of three of the last six years.

Crazy things are going on out in the world.

But the books are unchanged. They abide. The books abide.

Wonder Book has flourished in these years. A renaissance for the 3 bookstores. A reblooming.

More on that later.

If you’ve read any or many of these, I thank you. It means a lot to know that someone will spend some of their life with my words. A couple of people say they have read them all. That would be a feat. I’m only certain my editor and I have read them all.

I want to thank her. She wishes to remain anonymous. The constancy she provides is like a rock upon which all my storms dash, all my sunny days shine upon.

Form and format. Spelling and syntax. Grammar and, “Are you sure you really want to say that?”

It is a lot of work to code these stories and get the images up and deal with my corrections and additions and… “One last change, please?”

Last weekend was committed to making space in the giant book warehouse. No surprise.

Travis was off on vacation, so I had to get in early enough to let in the handful of other people who choose to work Saturday and or Sunday.

It also meant I had Dylan as a responsibility and an asset. We could get into projects of my choosing for a change.

He has come a long way in the last few years. He started as a high school kid on his first job. A blank canvas. There were some rocky spots on his learning curve.

“I’m giving you my two weeks’ notice. I really appreciate what you’ve done for me. I feel like I’ve grown a lot.”

I thought about it Saturday, and on Sunday, I pitched some ideas to him that might entice him to stay. We’ll see. If not, well, sometimes it is just time to move on.

It is gratifying to feel like you’ve done a good thing. Damn! He was just getting better and better.

I had a goal to go through 3 small old dusty pallets I’d dug out a few weeks ago. I knew they were filled with old paperwork and artifacts from Wonder Book long ago.

I found a lot of trash, but there were treasures too.

Old Chuck Photo

There was an envelope of photos commissioned by F&M Bank. It was 1993, I think. I was a featured story in their Annual Statement. A success story. They gave me the title “entrepreneur.”

So I’d crossed over from a scruffy used bookseller to a businessman that a big bank chain actually noticed. I hadn’t lost my baby fat, though. I wore a mustache because I felt my baby face took away from any gravitas I might exude.

I thought my face would always look young. I lost the mustache in the late 90s, I think. Many regular customers were in shock. Really! It was a “thing.”

What happened? My face now looks like I’ve been through a lot. Especially in the last eight years.

There were a lot of other finds from the old days. Some I saved. Most got recycled. There were plenty of sneezes involved.

I unexpectedly met friends for dinner on Saturday, but when I got home, I knew I had to grill the giant package of chicken cutlets I’d gotten from Costco or they’d go bad. It was such a great deal to buy so much at once.

Costco Chicken

The dogs will be happy.


“It is death to insult a poet. Death to love a poet. Death to be a poet. Irish Triad 2005.”

(That was a note I’d written 18 years ago. I came across it on the weekend. I can’t think of what I meant by it. Maybe one of you can tell me.)

I wrote this at home on Sunday evening:

So tired.

I labored with abandon.


Is there a deadline approaching?

Avoidance, I am pretty sure.

I got into crazy old stuff. Like 1980s old stuff. Stuff I kept for the “Archives” long ago.

It is time.

I made things “disappear.”


Last weekend’s Strange Interlude.



I didn’t think I was worthy. Maybe I’m not.

Oh, but what fun it was to play with rare old books and swords and explore the vast book warehouse with a friend.

A strange interlude and then gone like this morning’s mist.

When I’d left Sunday evening, I was satisfied with my work.

Sunday Warehouse

Monday, I had a small house call in New Market. I’d had to postpone it several times due to staffing issues. In summer, there are always people on vacations and other absences. I went by myself thinking I’d just make an offer and send someone to come get them at a later date. It was a row house on West Main. The robotic navigator in my car told me to stop at the same address on East Main, which caused some confusion. I knocked on the wrong door, and no one answered. I finally got to the right house. They had a nice library.

New Market House Call

Four walls covered like this. But the only books they wanted to part with were old cloth volumes that had been stored in the attic. That was fine. I thought a moment and decided to haul them out myself. It was only 15 boxes.

I headed back to the warehouse, leaving the quaint little town which was once the “Antiques Capital of Maryland.” The early 19th-century storefronts have mostly been converted to residences now.

Antique shops have gone out of style.

When I got home that night, I was motivated to do some yard work.

There are two terrace gardens below the dog chalet. I used to grow vegetables there, but now they sit fallow. The forest canopy is closing over them. The gardens at the warehouse get far more sun. I really should plant them with daffodils and shade-loving plants. I noticed some potato plants dying back down there. They must have wintered over for… how many?… years. I went down with a shovel and turned out a couple pounds of “new” potatoes.

New Potatoes

Later, I boiled them in salted water and then rolled them in the fruity olive oil I imported from Lecce, Italy. Some truffle salt and herbs, some chopped hot peppers from the warehouse garden. They were ambrosia. It was all such a nice surprise.

But before cooking, I emptied 30 bags of mulch on a new bed that had been created last year. I put plastic stakes at the corners so I would know in the fall where I could plant bulbs.

I put down some ruined old clothes and sheets—all cotton—as a mulch. I spread the wood chips atop them. Better to compost the cloth that to landfill it.

Mulched Garden

Tuesday, I went to the Frederick store. I met with Clark and my son and our longtime contractor, who can do anything.

We are going to renovate.

I just can’t bear stagnation. The only way to grow is to do things. Just to try something new, and if it fails, try something else.

We made a number of decisions.

We are going back into the comic business—in a serious way. The problem with collectible old comics is that you must protect them. Protect them from mishandling and “shrinkage.” Almost all the value in comic books is based on their condition.

We commissioned glass cases and flip bins.

The changes will be exciting.

While I was there, I texted Maribeth, “Let’s meet about the empty space on the Golden Mile.”

So maybe the store will expand after all these years. Two decades of decline and then rediscovery by new generations, and we will perhaps reward the clientele with… more. More of everything. Clark mentioned a coffee bar.


Why not?

When I got home, a luna moth was clinging to the dog pen.

Luna Moth

So much beauty in the world.

Thursday morning.

I transposed some manuscript poems to the laptop yesterday morning. A couple were many years old. But most were from May and June. I’ve not written very many recently.


I’ve been trying to write, well, finish parts 39 and 40 of the Round and Round stories. There has been a person or event in my life that has inspired these tales in the past. I think some of the stories about the weird bookstore and hapless bookseller are pretty good. But lately…


Lately? I think the last episode was posted here a year ago.

I got some words into both of them this week but couldn’t get very far.

This morning I switched to this—my typical offering. The “Life of a Bookseller” variety of post here. My editor has grouped the 350 or so different posts since July 2017 into 11 categories:

The Life of a Bookseller posts are essentially a public journal of current events—mostly things that have happened since the last weekly post.

I came home on Wednesday afternoon and crawled into bed.

I was drained emotionally. Too many meetings. Too much negativity and all the things that are “wrong” at Wonder Book.

I thought things were going well.

“It’s hot,” was one complaint set forth in a meeting with the core group of managers.

It is summer. We moved here in 2013. There have been ten summers just like this. It is a warehouse.

It is hot in the summer. It is cold in the winter. I work in the same weather as everyone else.

(Solution? Get more new barrel fans. Load the various refrigerators in the building with free drinks. We already have free snacks and Keurig coffee every day.)

“People are leaving.”

People leave every summer. Some go back to school. Some move on to career jobs they’ve been training for. Many people move in the fall for various reasons.

“It’s crowded. Some pallets haven’t moved for years.”

Not nearly so much as in some times past. It is a cyclical thing as well. In the winter and early spring, we always worry we aren’t getting enough books in. Spaces open up throughout the warehouse. In spring and summer, the public is often downsizing, cleaning up, moving. The warehouse fills. And it has been exacerbated by all the truckloads we brought in for Books by the Foot. We were low in many styles. We panicked and bought too much. (“I” did this. But then, ultimately, “I” do every decision here.) Now BBTF has refilled organically, and we still have huge deliveries pending. We are asking companies to hold off shipping them.

I actually met with a contractor yesterday morning before the “complaint” meeting. We discussed adding on to the current warehouse. I’m not sure it is feasible. We will see.

There were other potshots and side eyes and grousing… at least, that was my perception. I didn’t get angry, but I did get frustrated.

And it was hot. It has been a hot summer. The air has often been heavy with Canadian wild fire smoke. The air conditioning is acting up. We are having issues getting it repaired. That company is short staffed and overworked. It seems like it is that way everywhere. Even here.

Charities have been dumping a LOT of ex-library books on us, though we have made it clear we can’t use them.


Wonder Book has become a disposal target.

It is sad because many are very good books. The tape and stickers and plastic covering and rubber stamps are a turnoff to potential buyers. A dilemma for someone whose mission is “book rescue.”

“Can we get a buck for any of them?”

This has created a LOT of extra work, as every book that comes in gets handled and evaluated. Ultimately, many ex-library have been coming to me. Not the best use of my time. Notably, we received 30 pallets from a city charity recently. (20 came from Chicago.)

This meeting shouldn’t have happened. It could have waited. I was even asked, “Do you have enough bandwidth for another meeting?”

Why did I say yes?

Wednesday’s first meeting went pretty well. The brilliant general contractor, who is the ringmaster of the construction of the two warehouse buildings, stopped by.

There is a crazy patio attached to my office. I never use it.

Chuck's Patio

It feels more like a prison. It used to be the Postmaster’s private patio. Clearly, no one could get in.

Or out.

“Can we build an addition over it?”

I’d love to have a bigger office. I could put more bookcases in…

But the main reason was to look at an area in the northwest corner of the building. There’s been occasional seepage on the floor.

“Can we build an addition to cover the area where the water comes into the building from underground?”

(What I really wanted was for him and the project foreman accompanying him to say, “Yes. That’s a good idea. That will fix the leak.”)

“No. I think there’s pressure from the steep hill right behind the wall. It is pushing the groundwater to the foundation. We could just excavate along the foundation. Then we’d waterproof the building there. Then put tiles in the trenches for the water to drain away.”

(Darn! I wanted the addition to be a wise and logical solution. I am ready for something new to happen. We could use more space.)

“We’ll take a look at the blueprints and see if anything makes sense.”

The week has had a The Lord of the Rings theme threading through it.

Someone sent me this video of the master:

J.R.R. Tolkien: Unveiling the Creation of Middle-earth.

I watched The Fellowship of the Ring over a few nights. Last night, I started The Return of the King.

I went through a couple boxes of old papers and books from the archived collection that had been stored in Pennsylvania.

I found a lot of old manuscripts, birthday cards, notes, ephemera.

Strange. I don’t feel I’ve changed.

The books are certainly unchanged. They abide. The books abide.

Pulling books from an old box, I was shaken by more coincidence.

Lord of the Rings MMPs

I knew these weren’t lost. But I haven’t seen them for 20 years.

These are the old Ballantine mass-market paperbacks my brother Jim tossed onto my bed in Buffalo. I was a ten-year-old. He was a college student and poet and revolutionary.

“You might like these. They’re full of dragon spit and elven snot,” he joked then left.

On to Greenwich Village and then Marin County and then Carnegie Hall.

These books have no commercial value, but they changed my world.

They’ve been with me practically my whole life.

More than any of the millions of books—common and rare—that have come my way, those old battered paperbacks changed me.

They continue to change my life.

Watching The Return of the King last night connected me with so many things in the past. I wept and rejoiced all over again.

I thought about the future.

What can I do? What will I do?

I must try. Harder.

I’d like to think my work has changed some lives. The millions of books that Wonder Book has put in people’s hands. Some must have lasting impacts.

I feel no different than that ten-year-old kid opening The Fellowship of the Ring to page 1. I feel no different than the mustachioed, slightly chubby, maturing bookseller.

The books abide unchanged.

My heart abides unchanged.

Poem below:


Weary from a day’s good labor
I worked like a young man
Now I lay me down
My joints are warm
The friction of thousands of lifts
Will this lonely day be remembered?
Not by the few who toiled close by
Perhaps these words will last
A textual image of a man
whose worry was kept at bay
by hands and a mind so filled
that no fears could slip in
For eight hours time retreated
At day’s end I was comfortably worn
I smiled at this success
This small battle won
I yearn to return to
this place where time turns back
The more hours there
the longer I am young

4 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    Another great column, Chuck. Plus, I need to bookmark it, given that useful set of links to the various kinds of pieces you’ve written over the years. I foresee some happy hours catching up with posts I missed or want to revisit.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much Michael!
      Your comment keeps me inspired to continue the obsession.


  2. Donna commented on

    Have been reading your blog almost from the beginning. Love reading your poems and travel blogs. I am a big fan of all things MPM. It was searching for her books that first brought me to your Frederick store. Here’s to your 7th year!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind Donna.
      Thank you for reading and commenting!
      Be sure to check http://www.wonderbook.com for more of Barbara’s books – including books she personally owned and were at her home.
      Many are signed by her as ownership copies.
      Email us if you need help finding them.


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