Talking Books and Witchunts

NOLA Shipment

To My Muse

No black lonely night is all bad
if I can put pen to paper;
if some sense is made
of this wonderful horrible existence
Play me a melody my Muse
Inspire me to put fine words to it
Then let me find peace and rest
this black lonely night
Rest earned by satisfying labors


WELL! It has been quite a week!

“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

I received versions of this sentiment from more than a couple dozens friends, colleagues and complete strangers this week.

Last week’s story ended with a family funeral. That story has been substantially revised and enlarged if you have a few moments to revisit it.

The funeral went well. 104 years is a good run. 104!

I saw in-laws I haven’t seen for many, many years. I was a pallbearer along with my two sons.

So Friday and Saturday was spent catching up with relations.

Sunday I came into work. I was…it was hard to focus on books. I was…at loose ends. I planned to open the last of the Los Angeles ABAA Rare Book Show packages, make out checks and envelopes, and put away the pile of books that had been mailed to me.

I just…could…not…do it.

Nor could I bring myself to go out onto the warehouse floor for very long to whittle away at the cartloads of books and things that have been assigned to my attention. Various primary and secondary sorters of books and other items are trained to use guidelines or to use their experience or intuition in setting things aside which they feel I should decide final disposition.

I…could…not…face…them. There are just too many. I was completely daunted.

Instead I put the pickup in four-wheel drive and headed up the grassy rise to our 7-acre vacant lot adjacent to the 7 acres the book warehouse rests upon. I cut wood and loaded the truck for a few hours.

Loaded Truck

There’s a lot more wood than that! I didn’t want to load the green wood with the dry. Dry, dead wood I can burn right now. The green wood I’ll bring home in truckloads in the future. I’ll stack the logs in the barn. They will dry over the summer and fall. I’ll be burning them for heat and to conserve electricity next winter.

Then I went and had dinner with a friend. We had Vietnamese food. I had Chinese with family and in-laws Saturday. I had Japanese Thursday with the same.

I went home and tried to catch up with myself and the emotions of the past week.

I’m typing away at this Thursday, March 5th. It is almost 2 pm, and I really have no idea for a “story” this week.

The day has been a whirlwind, as has the entire week. A pretty bad whirlwind, unfortunately.

OMG! A PNC Branch Manager just called my cell. She said someone tried to pass a check of ours for over $3000. They confiscated it. The person took off. I asked for images of it to verify it is bogus. It is always something. This is a first.

There are contractors here banging and screwing away putting in more shelves. We installed three bookcases near the front door to load with books the staff here can take for free. It is a win/win for the books and the folks that work here.

People keep appearing at my door needing something.

I counted over 30 carts out on the floor with my name on them this morning. I know there are some treasures out there. I know there’s lots of “gravel” and “flotsam and jetsam” out there too. I know there’s a lot of mind numbing hard work out there.

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I don’t know when or if I’ll ever go through them all. Some are just laden with complex but “rescue worthy” problems. Most of the material is paper. But I get metal and glass and wood. Rarely I look at animal or vegetable material—never living. LOL I find myself more and more “punting” things to the “computer” to decide its market. I also send many to be evaluated by people trained to do research here. There are now three people looking for online comps, determining first editions, comparing autographs, checking populations… A lot come back to me with notes of what they found laid inside them. I’m sending more and more exotic ephemera and cool “things” to the stores as well. It is working pretty well. All three stores sales were up substantially in February over the same month last year. All these years I’ve resisted much of that. I was always concerned for the items. They could be lost or mishandled or pilfered. My son caught a young man stuffing things down his pants a few weeks ago. This was going on for months. Things kept disappearing from a certain area in the 11,000 square foot Frederick store. A camera was set up and sure enough the guy would look all around, and when the coast was clear, he would pull up his shirt and slip things under his belt. The police told us to call them the next time he came in. We did. The guy, his small daughter and his spouse all burst into tears when he was being led away. Thousands of dollars of stuff is missing. We’ll see what the outcome is…

Then there are the pallets of books waiting for me throughout the warehouse. The abandoned Ashburn pole barn, awaiting demolition that was filled with lots of wonderful Beat and jacketed Wodehouse and lit and lots of really wonderful things. Everything there reeked of mothballs that had been strewn about to ward off mice and snakes. I think they have likely aired out enough by now.

The Romance of Bookselling.

Mind numbing.

More traditionally, there is the hoard from William Safire’s home. That has been waiting nearly two and a half years. That is a story yet to be told. A treasure trove yet to be opened.

Then there are…lots and lots of other pallets waiting for special attention…waiting.

OH! The check that was stolen! The bank just emailed a scanned image of it. It was our check, but the name and address was for a person in Baltimore. That check number was printed here to Potomac Edison—our electric utility. $3014. It was put in our roadside mailbox yesterday. The bank confiscated the check. The bearer fled. The police are involved. I’m sure the bank has surveillance video of the person and the car they came in. We are stopping payment on all the other checks that went out yesterday.

We’ve sent tens of thousands of checks out over the years.

This is a first.

There was another first. I was publicly called something I’ve never been called before.

What is the worst word currently said to anyone of any gender, age, race or orientation? Guess.

Being in business, being “public” is not always fun.

Much of this week has been particularly unpleasant.

Monday, March 2

I awoke to a brilliant sunrise.

Brilliant Sunrise

For about 10 days twice a year, the sun rises in a gap in the forest. It is a great view every morning that is not overcast.

I’m a bit sad when the sun moves north or south into the tree lines. I have to wait through summer or winter for it to slide back into view.

I opened the final packages from the LA book show. Jeez! I found some BIG books!

Big LA Books

I found some tiny ones as well.

Tiny LA Books

I’m glad to help support my fellow booksellers. I have been very fortunate. I’m especially fortunate I no longer have to pay for college and law school tuitions.

The books from the show and others brought in from the warehouse floor covered the large conference room table.

Full Conference Table

Groan…What’ll I do with them?

Where will I put them?


It’ll work out. Things always work out.

Don’t they?

And no one owns anything forever.

I carved out a little space and wrote about a dozen checks. I handwrote 11 envelopes. One colleague had included a self-addressed envelope. Some hunch told me not to put the checks out in the roadside mailbox. All businesses in this industrial park have old-fashioned metal mailboxes. Some of my neighbors are pretty high tech. Like us! LOL.

I drove that mail to the old downtown post office. It is a large building with a sprawling dockyard in back. I’ve always liked buying commemorative stamps when I can. It’s been a long time. I feel like they might brighten a moment for the recipient. At the counter, the clerk opened a notebook before me. I flipped through it. I chose a dozen sheets each of John Lennon, Sally Ride, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and a couple others. I also selected two sheets of silly Scooby Doo stamps for a manager here. I know she is a big fan. I stuck stamps to our earth tone brown business envelopes and dropped them in the big blue metal box. Then I went back to work. I hadn’t been to the post office for a long time.

No, that’s not true. I stopped in a couple weeks ago to see how to renew my passport. The line was so long I left. One of the managers—actually the person who edits and puts these stories and images on line—metaphorically held my hand as I was walked through the many online steps necessary.

“Easy for Leonardo…”

Miracle of miracles my new passport arrived this week. Expedited. The guy in the picture is looking older and more tired than the one from 10 years ago. I visited one of the stores and pulled books about baseball and Chicago for the White Sox.

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I made sure not to include any books about the Cubs or Yankees.

When the day ended, I met my doctor at Le Parc Bistro. It was happy hour. Mondays are half price wine bottles. I chose a nice crisp Sancerre. We shared a couple glasses at the bar. He is one of the smartest and wisest people I know. I was very sad when he retired a few years ago. He also has a huge collection of rare and collectible sci-fi and fantasy, horror and blue chip mystery books. I asked him what he thought about the novel Corona virus that is shaking up the world. He has seen plenty of different epidemics over his 70+ years. He told me it seems scary but likely not deadly unless you are elderly or have compromised immune systems or other chronic health issues. He told me something like the biggest risk at this time might be physical contact by people at risk with people who had recently been to affected areas in China or other extremely hot spots like Northern Italy. He also said something like it would be bad for anyone to risk transmitting it to an at-risk close friend or relative.

My friend who owns two local breweries texted and asked what I was up to. My doctor left. My brewer slipped onto a stool next to me. I put a cork in the half finished French wine. We switched to martinis. I had a Gibson using Botanist gin from Scotland. Rance is an expert bartender and conversationalist. He has a thick Boston accent. Two women at the bar had never seen a Sazerac made. I asked Rance to make one in front of us.

That’s beautiful.


Mixologistic artistry.

Then my friend talked me into Ubering to his brew pub to check on its closing.

We arrived, and he had his bartender pour us a couple Smoketown Patsy IPAs. Patsy Cline grew up in Frederick, Maryland. The lights went off. The door was locked, and we talked about life, the universe and everything until late.

Closed Brewery


I awoke with the dawn and looked at my emails. I was smacked, metaphorically, across the fore head with a 2×4. No, it was not a hangover. But I continued to be blindsided the rest of the day.

What is the worst thing someone could accuse anyone of any age, gender, race or orientation? Guess.

My dad once told me when I whined that the “[injustices of the world] were not fair.”

I was still very young when he told me: “Son, life’s not fair.”

It was likely not the same night, but I conflate that memory with him shaking my big toe dangling across my knee. I used to go barefoot all the time. Even in the winter. Even in snow sometimes. It was the 70s. He gave my toe a shake and said good night and headed upstairs. I heard him choking. I ran to his side and carried him down. He was having a heart attack. He was dead by the time the ambulance got there. It was nine days before my 21st birthday.

Both his words and his death were life changing…

Joseph Roberts Obituary

I was so proud of him. MD. PhD. Author. Cardiologist Researcher. Colonel in the Army Medical Corps. Professor. Scholar. Inventor, FACP, FACC, Eagle Scout… When The Washington Post printed his obituary, they focused on an episode in his life when he was Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Arkansas. He had the courage to admit the first black person. This person happened to be a woman. This was years before I was born. My three older brothers told stories of cars driving around their home in Little Rock. People honked their horns and threw stones at the house, they told me.

I can’t find that article just now. But here’s another obit in a medical journal that mentions.

Joseph Roberts Article

A man for all seasons.

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I’ve spent my life trying to live up to him, to do things to make him proud.

I’ve a long ways to go.

He was the same age I am now when he died.

Life isn’t fair.

It is 3 in morning on Friday. I am pecking away at this with the laptop propped on my knees. One of the Jack Russells is snoring on the bed. I’m tempted to give him a gentle kick. The wood stove’s many paned glass doors glow orange like a dragon’s eye in the next room some twenty feet away.

Tomorrow…I mean today…will be a watershed, I think.

What would Will do?

Shakespeare Shrine

That’s my Shakespeare shrine at home.

Will would write! That’s what he would do!


A bookseller friend who lost his wife recently and is a bit ill, lonely and sad will hopefully receive the big box of 13.32 pounds unsorted old post cards we sent him. We have never sold postcards by the pound before. They looked nice. I don’t have time to go through them, so I’ll share the fun. He asked after them. He’s anxious to get them as they will be a happy diversion to sort through. To play with. For that is what many of we booksellers love best. Playing with old evocative things.

We will ship off a couple boxes of rare MP Shiel publications to another colleague. We bought out a small press many years ago. The books recently resurfaced. They are over 40 years old but are “brand new.”

Shiel Books

Another 6 boxes will go to a bookseller whose shop is in a very touristy antique city. We save books and publications about that city and state, and when we have a big load, we pack and ship them off for a few dollars per book. Postpaid. Some are common here but still popular and desirable there. Some are pretty exotic and too problematic for us to deal with. The staff has been satisfied with previous loads. Win for them. Win for us as a bulk sale. Win for the books. #BookRescue.

NOLA Shipment

Another 50 or so books will go off to a bookseller in the west. He was experimenting with our new website. We offer a huge discount for so many books. If it works out, he may order a lot more.

I hope he is satisfied. Cuz we got a million of ’em. Actually two. Actually more…

We have had some incoming books this week as well. About 30 boxes of old cloth and leather was shipped here from down south. They are books my friend can’t sell to readers or collectors. #BookRescue.

Incoming Books

And this one book came in from another friend. Thank God the tuition days are behind me.

Who says books cannot talk?

This book speaks to me.

It tells the story of a gathering of genius.

Talking Book

Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, John Marin, Goudy, Mitchell Kennerley, Arthur G Dove, Waldo Frank, Erhard Weyhe (who was an ABAA Art book specialist), Kreymborg and who is that?… no one has been able to make out the 5th autograph. If you can decipher it, I will send you a free t-shirt.

I can touch the page they all touched. I can spiritually be in that room where they bent before this open book.

I can be amongst the company of genius.

If only some of it could rub off.

There have been many other comings and goings this week. I was going to New York City this weekend. Now it doesn’t seem a good idea at all. I wouldn’t feel well. And not because of any threat of illness.

I will miss the chatting and the banter and the collegiality. I will save a great deal of money, however.

I will miss my old and newer friends. I will even miss the few people who seem to still look askance as I pass by.

The end of an era.

The Irish Booksellers are coming tomorrow! Since I’m in town, I can welcome them warmly—with fist bumps, I presume. They will spend 3 or 4 days pulling thousands of books from the stores and the warehouse. I’m sure we will go out for beers a couple times.

And there will be a new dawn on the horizon. There will be books. Lots and lots of books. A lifetime of books for all the years left and far beyond. Most of my staff is much younger than I. Even the brilliant one who has been here since ’89. The other three 1980s veterans are more my age. A few from the 90s. A bunch from the aughts… All kinds of people. All races. All genders. All ages—from their mid teens to their 70s. (Maybe their 80s—employers are not supposed to ask.)

And my son is taking more and more interest and responsibilities on here. I am certainly not pushing him. I have at least that much wisdom. But I am opening as many doors as I can for him. He will choose the ones he wants to pass through.

It heartens me to hope the Wonders will continue. The books will be saved.

It is a new world out there. You need to be broad-minded to wrap your head around it.

I watched The Scarlet Pimpernel by A&E this evening. Richard Grant plays the English Pimpernel. Elizabeth McGovern is his French wife. They jokingly insult each other’s national origins mercilessly. Near the end, Grant chides his wife: “Marriage ain’t a word, Madam. It is a sentence!” Then he takes her in his arms and kisses her passionately. A sense of humor is a good thing in this life.

I will turn off the light now. I will soon know if my words have earned me some peace.

I will gaze at the warm dragon eye in the next room.

Maybe I will dream of the autographed book. Maybe if I dream I rub it, magic things will occur.

Next week’s story will be cheerier. Even if I have to make it up. I still want to find out what is in that ancient room in the old bookstore where Althea works.


10 Comments on Article

  1. Patrick Cather commented on

    Always enjoy your blog Chuck. Hang in there. Patrick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you Patrick.
      It is fatiguing
      I appreciate your reading and commenting on it!

      1. richard replied on

        Always enjoy the narrative. Poem at beginning was pretty good.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thank you Richard!
          Appreciate it!

  2. Tom Hicks commented on

    Hey Chuck,
    Were those sugar cubes used in the concoction of that sazerac soaked in absinthe before being set ablaze? I did catch a glimpse of that bottle of Pechaud’s bitters, the heart of a good sazerac, being liberally dashed into that glass. I’m assuming that the barkeep used a good rye whiskey or did he use half cognac half rye? I’m a rye only person myself, but I guess the cognac is more true to the original. Anyway, all this talk of sazerac is making me want to go to Nawlins. A beignet and a sazerac sounds like a pretty good way to take our minds off the world’s troubles. If we can’t have beignets, I’ll settle for that sazerac now. Cheers!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I think just Rye. But you nailed it!
      He is so good at it.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tom!

  3. DAVID commented on

    Thanks for sharing so deeply here Chuck. Your mission to save and find homes for so many books is inspiring. I love reading about the treasures you are unearthing and the relationships you have built over your many years devoted to the honorable book trade.
    I remain convinced that there are better days ahead for us all.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks David. It is fun very often. sometimes it isn’t…

      I really appreciate the comments and sentiment

      1. Michael Dirda replied on

        I remember having three Sazeracs with Harcourt Brace editor in chief Andre Bernard during dinner at Galatoire’s in New Orleans. Andre had come to the restaurant already having had a cocktail or two. By the end of dinner, I was completely looped but Andre was all set to go bar-crawling in the Quarter with poet Edward HIrsch. I love this memory because Ed and Andre have now long been the president and vice president of the Guggeheim Foundation–not that that ever did me any good on the one time I applied for a grant. I still remember those Sazeracs with great pleasure. –md

        1. chuck replied on

          I long for the day when I can have another professionally prepared Sazerac. In Frederick or New Orleans or wherever..
          Thanks for taking the time to comment Michael.

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