Dad Book Art

The Iliad is only great because life is a battle, The Odyssey because life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle.

G. K. Chesterton

Life is a battle.

Life is a journey.

Life is a riddle.

…life is a mystery.

Friday, October 6

5 a.m.

Dark and quiet.


Black and silent.

A serious distinction.

It is dripping occasional raindrops outside.

There will be no glorious sunrise this morning. Every cloudy morning during the spells when the sun rises in my view—in the forest “window”—I feel cheated.

Tomorrow will be cloudy as well.

Cloudy or clear, the sun makes its way south at the same pace. Clockwork.

I went out and fetched Giles from the pen. He was put out late last night because he was agitated. Panting, restless—he would just not lie still. This morning, he was fine. Maybe tummy trouble. He trotted in behind me, hopped right up on my bed and flopped to sleep.

It has been a hectic week—both at home and at work.

Busier than usual?

I can’t tell. The weeks all seem to fly by. I’m never bored.

I’m often frazzled.

Maybe decades of frazzle have taken their toll.

But this week involved a good deal of “chair” work.

And a good deal of “people” work.

Roofer, welder, contractor, excavator, accountant, employees, bankers, investment advisers, insurance people, managers, a horror movie premiere to sponsor, friends, family, faith healer… and many more.

There are so many moving pieces in my sphere.

We deal with a lot of older people. I think part of our mission is to transfer books from old hands to younger ones.

Some older people are proactive. They downsize in place or move to smaller quarters.

Some remain atop their pile until the end.

I got motivated this week to sort more stuff up here on the mountain. That situation is different. Part of the issue was accumulation during COVID. Another was the influx of my own books—a collection from a previous life just above the Mason Dixon Line.

Most of those books either went to the warehouse for sale in my own online “signature” collection or upstairs to the garret.

Chuck's Garret

I hope I can get someone to come shelve them for me. I handle books all day. It would be a daunting prospect to handle each of those again.

The great room—the last room in the house that needs deep cleaning and dusting is just about ready. I’ve asked the housekeeper to come next Friday. That will be my deadline.

Then my house will be in order—sorta.

I can start all over again.

I met a couple last night for happy hour at Carroll Creek. Pre-COVID they had a happy hour every Thursday for the folks in their office—architects. I would join them every month or so.

“We just got used to not going out…”

Another COVID changeling.

In the spring of 2019, we three met in Paris. We had dinner at a tiny 8-table soufflé place and then walked to the Seine. We crossed to the Île de la Cité and bathed in the night lights of Notre Dame. The next morning, he called me. I was at the airport.

“Notre Dame is burning.”

They were in Paris a couple of weeks ago when I was supposed to be there.

“We tried to go to the soufflé place, but it was closed. The owner died, we think. It was a one man show.”

During COVID, he has started printmaking—photogravure and letterpress. There’s an organization in town called Frederick Book Arts.

“I have a key there now. I can go in any time and use the presses…”

Odd, I have never connected with FBA though I’ve sent out feelers. Maybe Wonder Book is intimidating to them? Doesn’t matter. Anyone who does book work is an evangelist.

At happy hour with my friends, I had one glass of wine, and we shared some apps and parted.

When I got home, I climbed out the window onto the porch roof to wash the bay window. The birds had knocked both suction cup window feeders off. I washed those as well and rehung them in the night—the roof lit from indoors.

I heated a piece of chicken I’d grilled en masse on Wednesday. It was in foil. I shook some black soy sauce onto it and sprinkled some herbs and garlic salt. I put some leftover rice from Sunday’s Chinese dinner in the foil. When it was hot, I dumped the mixture atop some chopped Romaine. I took it into the great room and watched Simenon’s Maigret solve a murder in… Paris.

Then I slid down to some pillows on the floor and began sorting books.

“Why did I bring this Cabell Jurgen here? I don’t like the book. Ah, Golden Cockerel Press. Still no reason to keep it.”

Oddly, I found another Golden Cockerel last week—a Book of Psalms. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside. In fact, I was just going to price it offhand. Then I opened it.

“Beautiful. Letterpress. Fine paper pressed, squeezed on iron type.”

Sign… typography.

Thursday’s dawn was far different.


Those colors are unfiltered and actually more vibrant to the eye than to the iPhone camera.

The valley was a sea of fog. I would I could sail across it to the east.

The sunrises race across my “view.”


Part of me is anxious for winter when I can thin things out and expand the view. Opening the canopy some is therapeutic for the life on the forest floor.

But now it is the “equinox time” up here. Twice a year, the sunrises move into my window on the world. Only for about two weeks in fall and two in the spring can I see the sunrise unobstructed by trees—if I can see it all. Soon the sunrises will move out of the “frame” to the right—south.

Another period is marked. Time marked by celestial events.

Sometimes I feel I can see the astral plane out there—far above and beyond the horizon.

It is a cautionary time. I’m warned that winter is not far off. Also, I face another chunk of time passed.

Was it well spent?

The events since the last equinox—last spring—have been daunting.

I’m not good at facing some things. Like mortality, for instance.

All I can do is work through the day so at bedtime—or upon waking—I can say my time was well spent.

(Even if only at pecking away at this laptop like this morning.)

Wednesday night after doing some long-put-off gardening chores, I went to the barn and split the rest of the wood I hauled up recently.

To me, it is another Zen-like chore. The headphones muffle the rattling roar of the engine. I lift the piece of wood—too big to fit into the stove—onto the cradle. I grasp the lever and push it forward. The engine accelerates. The hydraulic impeller moves forward. The heavy iron wedge at its tip is pushed along until it touches the log. It pauses as the pressure is increased, and the engine accelerates more. It pushes in harder, and soon the wood splits with a “pop.”

If the pieces are small enough, I toss them onto the pile.

When I was done, the unstacked firewood looked like this.


There’s more wood outside to cut up. But it is green and won’t be burned this winter. I’ll cut it up in January maybe. Perhaps there will be a bin to stack it in. It wouldn’t do to pile green wood atop seasoned wood.

Then I went inside and sat on the floor in the great room. I sorted a couple more boxes from my old collection hauled down from Pennsylvania. The keepers went upstairs to the garret.

I installed curtain rods and put up some used curtains that came to the warehouse amongst the flotsam and jetsam. They don’t fit. But they will do until I measure and go pick out something… bookish.

The next major task will be shelving the books.

Should it be done fast and dirty—at random?

Or should I try to organize things?


Book collecting for many of us is aspirational. We know we will never read all the books we acquire. But just having them makes the author and the words a part of you.

The books wait, each hoping they will be taken up and opened.


Travis and I are flying down I 270.

There’s an urgent Books by the Foot request for 5 feet of skiing, mountains, outdoors, camping, hiking…

There are some other things on the list, but this week won’t be the heavy fall pruning at the stores that last week was.

My shoulder is much better, although the weekend was another torrent of books aboard a fleet of carts.

This shows only some of the carts I processed and pushed onto the loading dock.

Weekend Carts

We didn’t have our high school helper in this weekend—Homecoming. So there was no one to push the carts from the Dock 5 aisle north to the Books by the Foot region north of Dock 15.

The store looks great. The staff was busy. Lots of people in for a Monday. Is it a holiday?

I believe I pulled enough books to satisfy the urgent skiing need.

It is a beautiful fall day.

The sunrise this morning was lovely.

When I think of all the gifts surrounding me, I wonder if it is an accident or if there is some design—some fabric to… it all.

The contractor came to the house this morning. His assistant was there. He looks great. He’s been extremely ill for a couple of years. One of those things they either can’t figure out or don’t know what to do about it. He is unable to work about half the time.

He had some major surgery some months ago—gut surgery. It didn’t help.

He couldn’t eat.

Once buff—he was recruited to be a Navy Seal—he had become so gaunt as to be cadaverous. His eyes were hollow, with a faraway look to them. When he was able to work, he shuffled and moved like a sack of bones.

When I saw him in the driveway, I told him, “You look great!”

Recently, he had another attack and was told to go to the hospital.

“Chuck, I’ve gone to the hospital. They can’t do anything. The specialists don’t do nothing either. My wife said, ‘If you’re not going to the hospital, you’re goin’ to church.’ I went to this church up in Fairfield. There was a preacher visiting from Georgia. They put me in water, and five of them prayed over me. I felt warmth, heat flow from head and down through my whole body. Chuck, I can eat again. I’ve stopped taking the pain meds…”

“Was it like casting demons?” I asked.

“No. I don’t know what it was. I’m not religious…”

Whatever happened, he was transformed. I despaired he would ever get better. In fact, he seemed worse whenever I saw him.

I found a story about the healer online.

As he began to follow God’s word delivered through the Holy Spirit and hold these baptisms, he parted ways with the Baptist Church, and he and Karen began Christ Fellowship Church. As he began to follow God’s leading and baptized more in the name of God, the Holy Spirit took over and the North Georgia Revival was born.

Since that beginning, thousands have been baptized, and many miracles of God’s healing powers have been witnessed. Through faith and the cleansing powers of the water, the lame has again walked, cancer has been cured, the deaf have been made to hear, and more modern miracles have occurred. Now as he travels and preaches, he carries three simple troughs and baptizes people wherever he finds a group willing to listen and learn about the great healing powers of God.

Life is a mystery.

A lifetime ago, I was a high school kid.

My school was a miserable one. Set in a then new sprawling Montgomery County housing development. There were no roots of any kind in that area. Suburbia—dystopia.

Unlike most friends in college and beyond, I never returned to visit the place or the teachers.

The big reunion was a year ago.

Only one teacher’s name came up—Mr. Gibbs.

Our group—the Wonder Boys and our female counterparts were in his 11th grade English class—most of us. For some reason, somehow he convinced the powers to carry us on to our senior year in a class called English Seminar—his invention. It was more a humanities or culture course.

Gibbs, a pixie-like fellow who taught mostly seated atop a high stool with his skinny legs intertwined, took us all to new worlds.

Opera, ballet, classical music, film, art, theater… just the opposite of the sterile gray Montgomery County of the 60s and 70s.

He took us on field trips to the Kennedy Center and a great bookstore in Georgetown—Savile “one of the best stocked bookstores in the world.”

(This is a great story of the evolution and devolution of bookstores in the latter part of the 20th century. Crown Books (“Books Cost Too Much”) was the threat. Little did we (or the Post writer) dream of Borders and the other big boxes. Little did Borders dream of the internet. All those stores are dead now—except Barnes and Noble which has somehow survived although its book stock is thin now, and it has branched out into toys, games, coffee and stuff… How did Wonder Book survive the carnage of the big box bookstores and their replacement—Amazon et al.? Well, I’ve gone over many of the reasons in the last 300+ weekly stories. And the printed book? The “book” abides. The book abides.)

Mr. Gibbs… he would host movie nights in the classroom at night sometimes. We learned about the history of cinema. I fell in love with Lillian Gish. He was a Garbo fanatic.

Our group of friends would get together and talk about poetry and literature.

To say the least, he opened many, many doors for us. Would I have found those doors on my own?

It was an oasis in a Kafkaesque school in what was then a Kafkaesque county.

Some high school links were reforged last year, and I was on a mailing list that notified me that last Christmas might be Vincent Gibbs’ last. He was a Christmas nut. I don’t remember that in school. Someone wanted to have old students go and sing carols to him.

I couldn’t see doing that. I don’t know these people.

Last weekend and for much of the past week, a lot of old Hollywood books have been appearing on my carts. Mostly midcentury—60s, 70s, 80s…

Nothing really special or rare, but very large and inclusive. I’d gone through hundreds when, for some reason, I opened one.

There was a gift inscription to Vincent Gibbs.

Gibbs Inscription

I went back and looked through other Hollywood books. Nothing. I’ve found more since. Nothing.

Yet again, I wondered if my hand was guided somehow.


Later in the week, I serendipitously glanced into the ephemera bins where everything found inside of books is put. There, on top of hundreds of pieces of “trash” was an envelope addressed to him about the commissioning of a Navy ship. The Robert E. Peary. That was the name of our school. The letter inside was signed by the principal—Fred Dunn.


Now I wish I’d told Mr. Gibbs, “You made a difference.”

Vincent Gibbs 1972

Some wonderful books came in this week. The stuff dreams are made of.

Laurelle Swan Books

Most of these came from Laurelle Swan—a great friend who is spending a lot of time caring for very ill friends.

A lot of the others were dogs.



Curated by Fido.

Doggerel Chewed

Going through boxes at home, I came across these pen and ink and watercolor.

Dad Book Art

They’ve been a part of my life since I can remember. My dad never put them out—they were still wrapped in tissue from ancient times, but I guess I found them exploring the doctor’s office he had in our house in Buffalo, New York.

(Oh, the nightmarish horror I found in some of those books and boxes.)

I can’t find anything on Ruben Menendez. I like the work. It’s very New Orleans or Caribbean.

Maybe you can.

My dad often got gifts or mementos from grateful patients.

I got a good deal of gardening done this week.

Bags of soil and mulch were dumped into the new beds I made with jagged stone from the construction site last spring and summer.

I transplanted twenty or thirty lungworts, bleeding hearts, platycodons, hellebores…

That must be finished soon before their leaves drop or the plants fade back into the earth for winter.

The acorns continue dropping.


I wonder if it is a portent of a bad winter ahead.

And I made reservations for London in a few weeks. I got tickets with a friend to see Rebecca.

Then Portugal. Then I tried for Turkey—though that may be sold out even though I responded almost immediately to the email offer.

I met with Clark and the store managers to review September sales.


Double digit growth over September 2022.

I don’t know how long the stores can keep growing. But the experience is exciting. It’s like a game in some ways.

The weekend will look like this, I’m afraid.

Upcoming Carts

Looks a lot like last week.

Nothing to it but to accept my fate until some better idea comes along.

Besides, if it didn’t do things this way, I never would have considered Mr. Gibbs again and publicly thanked him.

The First Hour

Dark, quiet
Blackness, silence

A short spell of sleep assessment
Reflection on the dream I’m just leaving
Then the real world of yesterday
Then the unknown future of today

No distraction
Me and my mind
My body in peace and comfort
rests forgotten

Afloat atop a cool sheet
Covered by a matching one
Bundled among soft pillows
Warmed by a near weightless comforter
I lie and wonder
Should I roll and curl
return to sleep
Or reflect on what I’ve done
And what I will do
Or the fleeting dreams
that span all things?

Rise? Why?
All dimensions are within reach
from this soft plane
raised between floor and ceiling,
earth and sky

There is no loneliness here
I have myself,
my plans, my memories
and my dreams

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