Lots and Lots of B’s in the Book Biz



Rain is splattering on the windows and roof outside my bedroom. It is black dark in the windows. From my bed, there is only sound. No light inside or out.

Hurricane Delta is passing through. According to Wunderground, it started between Cuba and Colombia on October 5th. From there, it traveled in a large arc, touching the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and turning slowly into and through the heart of Louisiana before scything northeast toward here.

The windows are closed against the cold and dampness. 55 outside—though windy and wet makes it feel colder. 67 inside. Much warmer beneath the two heavy woolen blankets. The phone says the week will have highs in the 60s and 70s. Saturday the low might drop to 44. That might be the day I will crumble some newspaper, break up some twigs and light a fire in the woodstove.

I’ve been watching a box set of Route 66 DVDs. Buz and Tod are traveling the back roads of 1960s America. They’re kind of anti-On the Road travelers. They’re honest. Well meaning. Wherever they land, there’s a serious problem for them to fix. There’s always a beautiful young damsel in distress who, after being rescued from…whatever, would become one or the other’s lover if they didn’t have to hop into the new Corvette two seater and move on the next place. Tod (Martin Milner) usually drives. Buz (George Maharis) navigates using a crumpled paper map.

Sometimes they have a place in mind. Sometimes it is just the next interesting name on the map.

The six I’ve watched are all well written by Stirling Silliphant. Is it a problem that there’s always a happy ending (so far)? No. It is comfortable. I long ago tired of the anti-hero. LONG AGO.

One or the other gets beat up in each show but is soon cleaned up and fine but for some painted on “Makeup” bruises or scratches. Somehow their limited supplies of great clothes are miraculously clean and perfect after a rumble in the dust or being wrestled into some body of water.

The little 1960s towns they land in are certainly gritty and realistic. The denizens perfectly rough and rustic.

It’s like time travel to when I was very small. I barely can recall. But those days were idyllic for me. Yards and fences and friends and adventures in places we weren’t supposed to go. But we never got in trouble for trespassing behind neighbors’ houses or the nearby schools.

Mom had breakfast on the table. Lunch. Dinner. No one I knew was sick or dying.

If I want to look at that part of youth through rose-colored glasses, I don’t feel guilty. (Well, the TV show is black and white.)

We all love fantasy and fairy tales.

When Buz and Tod hop into the Vette, spin their tires a bit on loose gravel, they are heading on to the next place. A quest.

They leave people behind who have learned good lessons and now understand themselves and their town better.

I know the real history wasn’t always so rosy. But there were really nice people everywhere as well as dregs. Sometimes you need to see the good ones and some happy endings.

Each episode has great actors as guest stars. Academy Award winners like Lew Ayres, Lee Remick…well, see for yourselves:

The roster of guest stars on Route 66 includes numerous actors who later went on to fame, as well as major stars on the downward side of their careers. One of the most historically significant episodes of the series in this respect was “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” featuring Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Boris Karloff as themselves, with the latter donning his famous Frankenstein monster make-up for the first time in decades and Chaney, Jr. made up to resemble his 1941 role as the Wolf Man. Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton also appeared together as the leads in an episode mixing comedy and drama titled “Journey to Ninevah.”

An episode featuring Ethel Waters also guest-starred Juano Hernandez as well as the fictional five-piece Memphis Naturals band, made up of actors Bill Gunn and Frederick O’Neal and real-life musicians Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, and Jo Jones.

Other guest stars included Inger Stevens, Elizabeth Ashley, Ed Asner, Lew Ayres, Ed Begley, Theodore Bikel, Whit Bissell, Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan, James Caan, James Coburn, Joan Crawford, Keir Dullea, James Dunn, Robert Duvall, Barbara Eden, Betty Field, Nina Foch, Anne Francis, Peter Graves, Tammy Grimes, Signe Hasso, Sessue Hayakawa, Joey Heatherton, Steven Hill, Miriam Hopkins, David Janssen, Ben Johnson, Buster Keaton, George Kennedy, Cloris Leachman, Robert Loggia, Jack Lord, Tina Louise, Dorothy Malone, E.G. Marshall, Lee Marvin, Walter Matthau, Darren McGavin, Ralph Meeker, Vera Miles, Roger Mobley, Chester Morris, Lane Nakano, Lois Nettleton, Julie Newmar, Leslie Nielsen, Arthur O’Connell, Susan Oliver, Nehemiah Persoff, Slim Pickens, Suzanne Pleshette, Stefanie Powers, Robert Redford, Ruth Roman, Marion Ross, Janice Rule, Soupy Sales, Martha Scott, Martin Sheen, Sylvia Sidney, Lois Smith, Rod Steiger, Beatrice Straight, Rip Torn, Jo Van Fleet, Jessica Walter, Jack Warden, Tuesday Weld, Jack Weston, James Whitmore, and Dick York.

William Shatner and DeForest Kelley, both of whom would later go on to fame starring in the Star Trek TV series and films, also guest-starred, in separate episodes. Kelley was in “1800 Days to Justice”, Shatner was in “Build Your Houses with Their Backs to the Sea.”

Two late third-season episodes, which aired one week apart, each featured a guest star in a bit part playing a character with a profession with which he would later become associated as the star of his own mega-hit television series. In “Shadows of an Afternoon”, Michael Conrad was a uniformed policeman, years before he became famous as Police Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues.

In “Soda Pop and Paper Flags”, Alan Alda guest-starred as a surgeon, a precursor to his career-defining role as Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on MAS*H. Also in the first-season episode, “The Strengthening Angels”, which aired November 4, 1960, Hal Smith, who played town drunk Otis Campbell in The Andy Griffith Show, also played a drunk named Howard and was listed in the credits as “Drunk”.

A fourth-season episode, “Is It True There Are Poxies at the Bottom of Landfair Lake?”, featured guest stars Geoffrey Horne and Collin Wilcox. In the episode’s storyline, Wilcox’s character pretended to marry Horne’s, although it turned out to be a practical joke. A few years after appearing in this episode, Horne and Wilcox were briefly married to each other in real life.
An in-joke occurs during the fourth-season episode “Where Are the Sounds of Celli Brahams?” In this segment, Horace McMahon guest stars as a Minneapolis, Minnesota, festival promoter. His character confesses to Linc his failed ambition to be a policeman. Linc remarks that he resembles a policeman Linc once knew in New York City. McMahon had starred as Lt. Mike Parker from 1958 to 1963 on the New York-based police drama Naked City, another TV series overseen by the creative team of Silliphant and Leonard.

Get your kicks out on Route 66.


It is Thursday, October 15th. This month is half over. Soon it will be November, and we will sprint through the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. The Plague Year will make that time different than any other. There will be no trip to Manhattan to see store windows and bump through the crowds on 5th Avenue. The holidays will be small with very few people or alone.

It is just after 7 AM. The phone says the sunrise is at 7:20. It might be a nice one. The dawn horizon is a kind of burnt orange. I’ll need to watch the clock. The moment the top of the sun breaks over the horizon until the whole orb shows is only a couple minutes. Then it just becomes morning, and the day begins.


Yep. That’s worth getting out of bed for. Well, actually I shot that through my bedroom window. So I was sitting on the far edge of my bed. I did have to suffer a bit in front of the opened window. It is 49 degrees, and I’m only wearing a t-shirt and thin cotton PJ bottoms.

The week has been pretty smooth so far.

Monday was a crunch with too many people off and not enough space in the building. When there are sorters missing, books don’t get sorted. Pallets laden with boxes back up. The vans arrive full and must be unloaded. Sometimes we just put the boxes on the concrete ramp. But eventually they must be brought in. I became the Space Making CEO and commandeered people from different parts of the building. I wandered about looking for voids.

We had to pull the plug on 40 pallets of LPs. We had been shipping them to the Philippines, but that guy disappeared in March and hasn’t been heard from since. We’ve had them for over ten months. I tried to get rid of them in many ways. There were a few nibbles, but no bites. They were mostly junk, anyway. The record sorter—Ridgley—tossed them into Gaylords because they didn’t make the cut for the stores or the internet. They didn’t even make the 94-cent boxes he creates for us to sell on the store sidewalks.

He and I go way back. WAY back. We used to compete a bit at country and estate auctions. He always looked like a cowboy. Thin, long droopy mustache. Still does, only older. Like me.

He always said: “My strategy is I’ll go in with guns blazing. If I don’t win the first lots, then I hope I’ve bid the others up enough that they are out of money!” He even spoke like a cowboy. Still does.

40 pallets will fill an ocean-going container. 2 rows of ten double stacked. I couldn’t even get 50 bucks for them! So, we placed a Gaylord at a time at the edge of Dock 11 and someone tossed the records into the huge roll off dumpster. Sometimes I’ll look down into the pit and see something that Ridgley shouldn’t have tossed. Am I tempted to climb down and retrieve?

Tossed LPs

Of course! But I’m not foolish. (At least not just now.) There are fresh LPs to sort. There will be treasures like this one signed on the front by Louis Armstrong.

Louis Under the Stars

AND…on the back by Count Basie!

Louis Under the Stars

The space we created by getting rid of 40 Gaylords of LPs filled in quickly—like digging a hole in the sand at water’s edge on the beach.

With the new Collector’s Corner, we are adding collections we have been holding for a long time.

I decided to pitch into Space Making by doing the first William Safire pallet. The sheets taped to them state: “Safire 8/1/18.”

Safire Pallet

I’ll do an entire story about that collection as we go further into it.

It was more fun than I thought it would be. There are a lot of beautiful antiquarian books which was what we paid 5 figures for. I barely glanced at the modern books. Turns out a lot of them are signed to Safire.

This one on Puns was weird. I glanced and thought it was signed by the author. But somehow the book stuck to my hand, and I looked closer.

Puns by Walter Redfern

Leonard Garment.

I recalled that was a Watergate name. Looking through the book, I found a TLS* from Garment to Safire.

(*Typed Letter Signed)

Puns by Walter Redfern

I need to explore this further. Both of the men were high up in the Nixon White House. Writing this in a book about Puns may be code or something.

Maybe Garment just thought Safire would enjoy a book about words. After all, Safire (who won a Pulitzer and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom) was all about words and phrases.

“He was a long-time syndicated political columnist for The New York Times and wrote the ‘On Language’ column in The New York Times Magazine about popular etymology, new or unusual usages, and other language-related topics.”

His “On Language” feature in The New York Times ran for over 30 years, I believe.

Here’s an example. As a speechwriter for Vice President Spiro Agnew (as well as Nixon), he wrote this well-known phrase: “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

I presume he also penned the memorable: “effete intellectual snobs.”

And everyone blamed former Maryland governor Agnew for the alliteration.

If this is the kind of surprise I’ll find in the rest of the collection, I’ll have some fun. (And some biblio-problems.) I’ve only gone through about 5%. Here’s the first cart that will go into the Safire Collection in the Collector’s Corner.

Safire Cart

I glanced through every book. I put fixed prices on the First Editions, copies of Safire’s own books, common books, and autographed books.

I priced them based on experience. Some pricing was aspirational. This way of marketing is new to me.

I put about 50 aside from those first boxes that I couldn’t quantify immediately. I’ll get to them when I start to wrap my head around the rest of the collection.

We are also adding the Peter Matthiessen and Robert Stone we acquired from an ABAA colleague a few years ago. These are all—or almost all—review copies of their own works from their estates when they passed away.

It is good we are finally able to start processing these collections.

We ran out of bookplates for my friend Barbara Mertz’s collection. Again. We did a count and requested 2000 more. That should cover the remaining books. I didn’t recall we had removed so many from Lothlorien. These are especially touching to me. And we’ve sold a about 100 or so to her fans in the weeks since we put them online at www.WonderBook.com.

Oh! And we will soon be adding the Charles E. Roberts collection! LOL

Here’s my bookplate, designed in collaboration with Alan James Robinson.

Charles Roberts Bookplate

I’ve decided to reduce my Folio Society collection and some other modern books to make room for the antiquarian books I can’t resist.

(Actually, there are too many books on the floor! Taking the Folios off the shelves will help me clean up!)

Buddha, Bulbs and The Boutique

On Tuesday, Larry texted me: “Want a lifetime supply of Buddhas? From 1″ to a 1′ head. Over 50.”

“Depends on the price.”

The price was right. Now I have a Buddha overpopulation problem.


Wednesday, shipping informed me three boxes of bulbs had arrived.

“Bring them to my office.”

Whoa! They are BIG boxes.

I started yet ANOTHER rock bordered garden this week. I went to Lowe’s for topsoil. The mountain “yard” is very rocky. I’ve learned if I put enough soil into a raised bed, the plants do ok—even if I don’t do much prep on the existing soil. I have a little more transplanting to do before everything dies back and disappears. Actually, I could go on and on and on transplanting.

New Garden

Now I’ll have plenty of bulb planting to do in November and December. Then it will be winter.

Last year we had the winter that wasn’t. I’m guessing the Plague Winter will have lots of snow to add to the misery. I bought a snow blower a few years ago to supplement the plow on my ATV. I never even put oil or gas into it. I took it to get ready to start. They gave me instructions when I went to pay for it. I’d hate to try to figure the thing out when my fingers are frozen and the snow is piling up outside.

We have a lot of really nice antique leather books. Unfortunately, a lot of them are broken sets or completely uncollectible. Jessica, the Books by the Foot Manager (among numerous other duties), told me customers were unhappy when we selected the expensive books for them.

Wrong color. Not a good size…

I came up with the idea of letting them choose their own antique books. Thus, The Boutique.

I’ve been bringing pretty old things into the photo room for the last couple months. It was a bit of a learning curve, but now we have about 100 listings from a couple miniature books to a leather-bound set of the Harvard Classics from the turn of the century (the 19th century.)

They’re starting to sell!

Another problem solved.

Well, until we start running low on them.

Or we get overstocked.


Cart Man

Things have evolved to the point here that I spend most of my “book” time here going through 6-shelf 3-foot 4-wheeled metal book carts laden with different kinds of books. There are so many now that I am always behind.

I mentioned the Mertz and Safire carts. (I DID load the Safire cart myself from boxes.)

Now there are Annika carts.

She is progressing so fast in her biblio-research.

I find this very saddening.

All the good researchers we have had in the recent past have left just when they got to the point of being very useful.

She often has a “term of the day” to give me. Sometimes I know the term (beveled edges.) Sometimes I draw a blank (I won’t embarrass myself.)

These are two carts I did this morning. I sat on a stool in the room where she works. Each book has a Post It or two on it. Sometimes she uses an index card. We try to use up scraps here. It’s the recycling thing, you know.

Researched Cart

(And the scraps don’t cost me anything!)

I do this in her presence so I can immediately critique her work. Today I found a mistake. She claimed a signed Asimov Foundation title was a book club edition. The Fratz sticker on the spine claimed it was a signed first edition. It had a trade dust jacket with a $14.95 price. But it was a Doubleday, and as everyone knows Doubleday must state “FIRST EDITION”*.

(*Most of the time…LOL)

So they were both wrong, in my opinion. When I explained this in my scholarly way, Annika asked: “What about the book club gutter code?”

I replied: “?”

She proceeded to show me the code somewhere in the “gutter” on a page near the end of the book. I looked more closely, and indeed my opinion was now that it was likely a book club edition book “married” to a trade dust jacket.

So all three of us were wrong. Or all three partially right.

Actually, she was right. I did caution she should have mentioned the trade jacket in her notes.

It WAS signed.

Carts…one of her carts was all Fratz sci fi and fantasy and horror titles. Many of the less expensive ones I didn’t need to even look at. (She turns those fore edge out.)

Most of the others I barely glanced at. (Except the Asimov, which needed my expert perusal.)

The other cart was mostly older things I’d sent her way to look up.

There’s a nice Art Nouveau 1911 Wanamaker catalog loaded with period fashion images.

There were a few: “None online. None on WorldCat.” I always enjoy those. It gives me a feeling of discovery. It’s almost as if Wonder Book has the only copy in the world. That’s not exactly true. There’s a chance they are sole survivors, but more likely just odd items that haven’t found their way into institutional databases. Maybe some deservedly so. But I tend not to send vanity press poetry and polemics to be researched. I’m sure many of them are “None Online…”

But who cares.

Then there’s that little white paperback with the tan nude drawing on the front cover.

Pablo Neruda Book

“It’s signed by Pablo Neruda…”

“How cool!”

Why did I pick that one to go to her? It is just a 1960s mass market from…Buenos Aires. (I had to look at the copyright page.)

And I have been emphasizing that she should look at the names of previous owners written inside…

She found a 2nd edition of Darwin’s orchid book that was owned by a pretty famous Scottish biologist. No homerun but still a little enhancement.

I have about three carts loaded with foreign language editions. Most are softcover. A preponderance are radical titles from Cuba and South America. And Asia and Portugal (yes, they had a revolution there in the not too distant past.)

Why of all the foreign paperbacks did I pull that one out? I knew it wasn’t a first edition. That title is nearly 100 years old.

(I DO often pull out foreign editions of authors like Neruda, Marquez, Llosa, Borges… if I feel there is a chance they might be first editions.)

Maybe it was my “Muse” guiding me again. She’d abandoned me, I thought.

Can’t blame her. I’m so grumpy so often nowadays.

Pablo Neruda Book

“Para Ancka. Su Amigo Pablo Neruda 1966.”

I’ll take 50% of the (subconscious) credit. The rest goes to her.

It’s still fun!


I’m bringing the potted plants indoors. None would survive a hard freeze. There are LOTS more than last year. Some of that is due to propagation. Many came last spring from someone who reads these stories. She emailed and asked if I wanted some cacti and succulents. They flourish in her distant and exotic domain. She sent two BIG boxes, and I heeled the specimens into a garden with soft soil and a bit of sun. They did wonderfully! Soon I’ll have potted plants all over. They are temporary guests. They move out next spring.

I grow, almost exclusively, plants that, like me, thrive on neglect.

I’m going to use wooden wine crates as temporary plant stands for some. There are far too many pots for the folding tables I bring in each fall.

I dreamed I was in Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City.

That dream was likely triggered when I took home the original Bemelmans’ artwork I acquired from Thorn Books at the ABAA LA Book Fair last February.

That seems so, so very long ago and far away.

The dream was brief. The bar was dark and bright at the same time. It was quiet and cozy, even though a jazz trio was playing.

My martini glowed with silvery white light.

It made me think of Galadriel’s phial.

I hope I can go there again.

It seems so very far away!

(My Bemelmans’ is a Guinea Fowl done in pen and ink and watercolor.)

10/13/20 mt

2 AM Flight

The skies are silent
No distant engines roar
No jet’s trail scars the heavens
The last time no planes flew
buildings fell and thousands died
Tonight I travel in my quiet bed
Bundled against the cold
I sojourn where my mind takes me
In hours I will awaken
to the reality of place
Daylight shines the scene
where I am confined by plague
But now let me linger
So far away just little longer
It is so comfortable there

6 Comments on Article

  1. Gregory commented on

    I have two pedantic corrections, just to prove that someone is reading. I know you will be excited!

    1. You say, ” Is it a problem that there’s always a happy ending (so far)? No. It is comfortable. I long ago tired of the anti-hero. LONG AGO.”
    But the anti-hero has to do with the character of the protagonist, not the kind of ending. One could have an anti-hero who lives happily ever after (e.g., the troubled, profane detective solves the crime and gets the girl).

    2. You talked about using index cards so nothing is wasted. That is great! However, this is not “recycling,” but re-using. Recycling is when the thing is broken down and used to make new products. Reusing is even better than recycling, so you should take credit for it.

    Otherwise, your column is perfection! Thanks.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Gregory. I appreciate the comments. I’ll look into revising.
      The contrast I was aiming for was w Kerouac Cassady et al. They were not nice to others or to one another. I never understood its appeal.
      But I appreciate the work. I wouldn’t trust either of them with the car keys!

      Some of the people here actually cut used index cards in half to stretch the use of blank backs!

      thank you for reading and writing!

  2. Norv commented on

    Get a time-lapse sunrise! Set an alarm to go off an hour before sunrise. Figure out the night before how to make it happen (phone positioning, glass cleaning, camera setting, activation, etc). Get up. Position the phone. Start the time-lapse exposure. Set an alarm or timer other than on the phone for about an hour and 15-30 minutes. Go back to bed, or stay up! If it’s already in the trees, perhaps experiment to get ready for six months from now. 2 cents

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Norv! I’ll look into it!
      Best Chuck

  3. Rick Banning commented on

    Chuck, Ah, Bemelmans, a wonderful writer about such things as running hotels in preWWII Europe and putting his fine paintings in his own books. Words and pictures, he had the combination down pat. With a trace of melancholy. Rick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Yes! I miss it so much. Happy memories.
      Thanks Rick!

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