Summer’s End

Hiring Book Lovers

‘What was I thinking?’ I wondered facing the phalanx of full, six-shelf, 3-foot-long, four-wheeled, metal carts.

It was Saturday. Cool for August.

On Friday, I had asked Andrew to cart up the books in a “Chuck Kills” Gaylord.

Chuck Kills Carted

He was done surprisingly quickly.

“Ten carts filled!” he told me.

Last week, I got a little ahead of things. It was mostly due to absences in sorting. If we don’t go through many book collections, then not many fresh things are set aside for me on carts to go through.

‘I can get into some of these Gaylords and try to figure out why these books never sold,’ I thought. ‘And it will make that much more floor space.’

“Andrew, please empty another Gaylord—this one.”

I had so many other hats to wear on Friday that I really didn’t notice what was in store, what was waiting for me on the weekend.

There were the 20 carts Andrew built for me, plus plenty of others that were filled by others.

By Sunday evening, quitting time, via hard work and diligence, I had gone through a lot of them.

This many will go back online.

Kills to Go Online

Most at much lower prices. All will be better cataloged this time. Training has improved. The software has evolved and advanced. They will have a much better chance this time.

But there were so many that I never got to all of them.

Oh, well.

They represent the continuation of my being useful and relevant—at least for another week.

I should be in Latvia. Or Estonia. Or Lithuania. I’d tossed the tour packet into recycling, so I really don’t know where I would be on the itinerary today.

I know I would be learning about the Hanseatic League. I know I would be exploring ancient capital cities and seeking out national libraries. I’m certain I would be stumbling upon quirky bookstores filled with books printed with words I could never understand.

When I was a kid, my father would indulge me on trips (him for medical reasons—he was a doctor and would pick up supplies or medicines for patients) to the Tech Drug Store in Amherst, New York. He would let me pick out a book. They had a tall metal spinner of mass-market paperbacks. On a counter, they had an unusual display of tiny dictionaries. Lilliput Dictionaries.

Lilliput Dictionaries

Brightly colored and bound in vinyl, they seemed like little jewels to me. Of course, the first I wanted was an English dictionary. I seem to recall they were 50 cents each. That was a great deal of money, for then the coins were still made of silver. The Walking Liberty half-dollars were strikingly beautiful.

Walking Liberty Half-Dollars

On subsequent visits, I would pick out other dictionaries. Dutch, French, German… I felt that if I read these enough, I would learn the language. Naivete. Perhaps I learned my lesson when I selected a Greek dictionary and couldn’t decipher a single word.

Flash forward some decades and as a bookseller, I was visiting an annual ABA Book Expo (or whatever it was called then.) It was so vast in the Javits in New York or the McCormick in Chicago that it was a veritable city of publishers’ booths and displays, with thousands of independent and chain store booksellers flowing through the aisles like corpuscles in living veins.

Selling books and announcing new releases and impressing writers and agents were an important part of the extravaganza. But also selling “rights” and other arcane legal and commercial transactions. Perhaps that was a main reason so many foreign publishers had display booths exhibiting copies of their catalog of books. The foreign section had its own borders, and within it, it was organized geographically. All the Italian or French or Spanish or Japanese… publishers would be together in the same row. Maybe that is where I found the Langenscheidt booth and set up an account to buy their Lilliput dictionaries. With a minimum purchase, they included a metal display rack that was perhaps the same as when I was a kid in Amherst, New York.

What brings this up is not just the lost trip to the Baltic, but somehow I found that very rack on one of the filthy dusty pallets wrapped in plastic that hold “archival” material in the Wonder Book warehouse. I sent it to the Frederick store, thinking they might try to sell it for a few bucks. Instead, when I went in last week, I saw it being used as a display once again. It was the perfect size for the Wonder Book shot glasses, which were such poor sellers that they must be 12 years old now. Maybe more.

Wonder Book Shot Glasses

(I should raise the price on them. You’ll not see their like again.)

But back to last weekend.

I was able to submerge my sadness, disappointment, worry, anger, fear… in books. 20 carts of select books. Each one a mystery (well, not a “mystery book”—though those were represented mostly as first editions—many signed.)

“Why didn’t they sell?”

Nature? There is just no audience for the book. (Well, create and audience. Summon and seduce readers and collectors.)

Nurture? They weren’t described accurately. Poor cataloging. (Try again. Write notes on a Post It and hope the cataloger is better trained than those 6, 7 or more years ago.)

Mechanical? The data got corrupted in the “machine.” (Try again. The technology is oh so much better now.)

So, I faced off against the twenty Chuck Kills carts—plus a number of other types, not to mention the filthy dusty “problematic” carts which have languished untouched for years.

“Spine glancing.”

I can often judge a book by its cover. A glance at its spine is very often enough to tell me I don’t need to touch this book. No one will want it to read or collect. Exile it to the Books by the Foot section in the northeast section of the vast building.

But the twenty Chuck Kill carts all held “select” books—not random finds.

One at a time.

I had to pull off almost every single book and look at it and maybe inside.

There was hardly any spine glancing.

And so I spent the weekend lost in the love of books.

And it was a good and useful way to spend 9 or 10 hours Saturday and Sunday until I was exhausted and it was time to stop and leave them—waiting.

And then home alone.

Alone but for those silent friends, each of whom can mutely speak volumes.

For my world has yet again gone through a sea change.

Ray and Jay are gone to other worlds.

My family is broken and moved to their new families. Or just broken.

My circle of mammalian friends whittled away to two aging Jacks, who haven’t slowed a step yet. Who are anxious and excited to see me and never anything but positive and happy.

Come Play

You have worked the day away
Now come and with us play!

And the big goofy stoopid Giles whom I have apparently inherited.

He’s languishing on the bed next to me right now—shedding his white fur on my white faux fur bedspread. He is so desperate for companionship that he will bark incessantly if he is put out alone. (I have a bark collar, but I dislike using it.)


Ernest and I are careening down Interstate 270. I always feel he drives too fast. But when I sneak a glance at the speedometer, it’s ok. Actually, cars are flying by in the left lane. Fast and Furious on the highways. The new normal. A vestige of COVID, and the police backing down on enforcing… everything.

Also, this little box truck sits upon a heavy-duty chassis and rides pretty rough. It is a commercial vehicle—not designed for comfort.

And I’m trying to write on my laptop. Every bump sends a keystroke or three awry.

August is ending. It will be done when this story is posted.

Thank God. It has been a horrendous month.

I hope September will be better. But I’m resigned to the fact that it could get worse then.

My journal #24 is nearly done. Maybe a dozen pages left. I won’t fill that much tomorrow, August 31st. But I will end it then and shut off this lost summer.

Maybe a new blank journal will bring me luck.

“Sept 1 2023. Friday. Page 1…”

But I’m losing hope in talismans and good luck charms and fresh starts and new beginnings.

The current journal was begun on June 24th. That may be a record for a filled journal. But it isn’t a very thick book, and it is unpaginated, so who knows?

I’m looking forward to the visit to the Gaithersburg Wonder Book.

It hasn’t been dysfunctional this summer.

May it be so this day.

I need the break.

The visit was nice. No problems. Nice staff and customers.

A pleasurable sojourn.

Maybe I’ll just drive somewhere. Take a day trip to…

They’re planting trees at the new warehouse! I knew they would, of course, but had forgotten. There are a lot. Maybe as many as were feral there when it was a vacant lot.

New Trees

Friday, September 1st

I began a new journal today. The old journal still had seven or eight empty pages. But I was done with it and wanted to start anew.

It is a cool morning. In the 50s.

There are dead leaves on the driveway. More from drought and strain and not fall’s annual slaughter.

The warehouse gardens have been very ugly this year. The only successful crop has been hot peppers.

Late yesterday after the workers had all left, I stopped at the new warehouses’ construction site looking for more stones to finish the garden wall. I found a few, but there are no more. The site work and landscaping are far along. The holes and piles are being smoothed over. I don’t know where I will find enough matching rocks to complete this wall.


Thursday was a day of upheaval in the offices. We need to do some renovations to make room for another manager. The workload has become too much for the four that have held the place together for so long. We have built a good thing in the decade since we came to this giant building.

We bought this building in September 2013.

What is next?

I spent much of Thursday clearing out this room.


There was a mountain of yellow plastic tubs in the center. Those tubs are full of old books waiting to be evaluated. Now they are stacked neatly in two Gaylords. There they will wait, wait til their turn comes to be given a chance for a new home, a new reader to take them up and open them and let the words out.

As for the rest of the mess:


This area has become an eddy for things that are problematic. Books and other objects that don’t exactly fit in and need attention and thought to find their place.

It was dusty work.

I will spend part of Friday and part of the weekend going through these things and sending them hither and yon. (I like that—”hither and yon”! LOL.)

Come Monday, the two rooms will be like a blank canvas upon which desks and other furnishings will be placed for the next phase.

Toward the end of the day, I went outside with the four managers to discuss what will come next. It was a cool bright day in the 70s. As I addressed them with my ideas and wishes and hopes for improvements that will take us to a new level, I noticed trees were rolling by on the street across the parking where we stood. A little forest was promenading by being carried by forklifts.

The Wonder Book groves are being planted!

Part of the permitting process to build the new warehouses was to offset (pay) for the scruffy feral trees in the vacant industrial park lot that would be taken down. An option was to plant new trees. There are two big lawns on the old warehouse’s land. They serve no purpose but to be mowed. I asked for permission to plant the “offset”—replacement—trees there. How many will there be? I can’t remember and don’t want to search the files. The number 80 comes to mind. Various species. I will have to count when the planting is done. I want to know what I am paying for!

There will be two little forests on the Wonder Book warehouse property. Birds will nest in them. Other creatures will feed on the leaves and seeds they produce.

New life.

I came across some interesting books this week amongst all the turmoil.

This 1830s binding with the title Florida War at first stumped me.

Florida War

We had a war with Florida. Then I remembered some old history lesson in school about the Seminole Wars. Was that it?

Do they teach history any more? Or is the past so uniformly bad that it has become irrelevant rather than a cautionary tale?

Then this dull beat up tome opened to a surprising title page and frontispiece of African American history.

The White Side of a Black Subject

There were plenty of others too.

And the first cart I glanced at when I came in this morning had a whole lot of ancient vellum on it.

Ancient Vellum

Timeless. Ageless. Unchanging.

“Book rescue.” Almost all the books we take are collection no one else wants.

I have no idea where these came from. Most of the books we get would be destroyed if we didn’t take “everything” in.

We should get t-shirts that state something like, “I participate in Book Rescue at Wonder Book.”

The September sales are announced on the website.

They include “framed items.”

Framed Items

You would really help us out if you came and bought some. The walls and floors are laden with it.

And there is a sale on the website through September 20th. You have about two and a half million choices, so start searching.

Poem below:

Summer’s End

Cool breeze flows in the bedroom window
Chill enough to silence the night insects
There is only the rustle of the forest’s leaves
The end is very near
What begins next is not very auspicious
The threads have all been cut
Snip, snip, snip
And I am cast adrift
The next season will be faced alone
It is black outside
An unwelcome dawn will break soon
Light will shine upon all the disappointments
They are in the past
I must proceed away from them
toward a colder lonely season
Then winter when all things end
Death is cold; cold as ice
A freezing wind will bathe me to rest,
the sleep from which there is no awakening

4 Comments on Article

  1. Bruce S. commented on

    I love hearing about your life, with endless books woven into the fabric of your daily activities. My life revolves around books, too, but as a reader and collector, not as a seller. Your side of the equation makes my side possible. Thanks for giving us Wonder Books, and all of its wonderful books. I only wish I could browse through your stores, but California is a long ways away. At least I can enjoy walking along with you in the blog, as you visit the stores and warehouses, and other book sources both near and far away.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Such kind words!
      Thank you!We are both very lucky.
      Be sure to check the website. 2.5 million on there …
      If you inquire via the site we gladly supply extra info or images.
      And the prices shown include postage.
      Thank you for writing.
      You made a bad week brighter

  2. Hayley commented on

    I loved the shot glasses! I made sure to take the ones I found at my mom’s house. Glad I did!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Awww…I miss her
      And you too!
      Thank you for reading and writing
      Happy memories


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