Tethered to the Book

Chuck's Tolkiens


The last day of March.

It will be a beautiful day. 60s. Sunny.

Maybe I’ll drive past the Methodist church on the way in this morning to see how busy it is.

I haven’t gone for many years. When the kids were young, we would take them on Christmas and Easter, mostly so they could see what it was. Bible stories were read to them, mostly so they know about Jonah and Daniel and Moses and Genesis…

You really can’t understand Western culture and history without some knowledge of the Book.

Many book titles come from the Bible. Wow. That’s quite a list to scroll through.

When Wonder Book presented The Grapes of Wrath a couple of weeks ago, I wondered about the title. Certainly “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was a source. But digging deeper, you find this in Revelation:

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine press, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

I still get chills thinking about the visit to the island of Patmos and the cave there where the Book of Revelation was written.

OED is a main source of quotes. It ranks the Bible second after Shakespeare.

But then the compilers were Anglophiles.

And Shakespeare certainly had the Bible as a major source for his writing and literary allusions.

April 1st.

Pouring rain out in the dark. A couple claps of thunder have the dogs refusing to go out. Rain is beating on the roof. All is blackness.

It was a very introspective weekend.

Part of it was Easter and the end of March. Family memories of a family now all gone but for me and my memories.

And tiredness and soreness throughout my body, and I don’t know why.

I worked hard at books on Saturday and Sunday. But that is the norm.

What is going on?

There were 8 people working at the warehouse on Saturday. 9 counting me. 2 new young people. Part of the task was to figure out things for them to do.

They loaded carts—creating work for Travis (media) and me (books and “stuff.”)

It turned into a family weekend as well. The older son brought the grandchild, 6 months old now, to Frederick, and we walked around the mountain. I wonder if the colors of the flowers made an impression on the baby. He smiled at me, and that certainly is a huge gift.

Sunday, there were only 4 people at the warehouse. 5 including me. We closed at 3 since there was family stuff for a few of us. I drove up to Pennsylvania to my younger son’s in-laws’ house.

It was wonderful. But I felt more like an observer than a participant.

Tired and sore, I felt I was two people. There in the present. Trying to be friendly and polite but not having much to say. Another me was outside my body. Observing it all from… somewhere else.

Easter was a beautiful day. It made me think of childhood in Amherst, New York. Mom dressing me up for church in fancy clothes that had me squirming. Dad taking pictures of his four boys. Then us going to church, and me squirming more in the pew.

(The dawn came. It is still pouring out. April showers. The dogs agreed to go out though. I emptied two pans of ashes on the gardens. They were cold, but the heavy rain made me completely comfortable spreading them rather than carrying the trays downstairs and pouring them in the ashcan. I fed the birds. Made tea. Did a few housekeeping things. Cut up grilled pork for the dogs. I’ll mix it in with their regular fare. It has somehow gotten to 8. I need to get up and shower and dress. We’re getting a visit from city, county and state officials this afternoon. They saw the Washingtonian story and thought they should tour the place again. The last time was in the depths of COVID. We seem to still be off the radar, considering the positive things we do for the economy and recycling and culture of the region. Well, books are “invisible” to a huge percentage of the population. So, though big for a book enterprise, we are small potatoes in the scheme of things.)

When I got home, I watched a couple of The Twilight Zone episodes. It has been a long time. A lot of the stories had up well. Rod Serling wrote most of them, but Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson wrote many too. I remember watching them as a tiny kid. Perhaps with my older brothers. Likely with the disapproval of my parents. In the early 80s, I subscribed to The Twilight Zone Magazine. Serling, cigarette in hand, inserts himself into many—or most—episodes, introducing the story or acting as an opening narrator. I always thought he was the coolest thing on TV. He was a heavy smoker—3-4 packs a day—and died young (50) after several heart attacks.

The tiredness hit, and I dragged myself to bed. I tried to write a poem about being two beings at once, but the concept was too difficult.


Rain again. In the dark, I lie and listen to the soft hushing and occasional splats on the roof.

Later, there’s a clap of thunder. The dogs don’t like that. After a few more, Giles wants to climb atop me for… protection? Merry goes under the bed. He’s never done that before.

It is foggy, and the occasional lightning flash, muted by the clouds and fog, brightens the world for a moment, and then all is dark again.

Twilight. I look up the definition.

The diffused light from the sky during the early evening or early morning when the sun is below the horizon and its light is refracted by the earth’s atmosphere.

I love the crepuscular times.

Giles really doesn’t like thunder. There’s not been much of it.

Scared Giles

Makes it tough to peck away at the laptop. I put Merry in his pen. He was panting too much.

Monday was a confusion. A lot of people took the day off.

There were visitors coming. City, county and state Economic Development representatives were coming to see what we do. I asked the different departments to clean up some. Mostly sweeping.

My son came over, and we met with Clark to review March sales results at all the stores.


All are up again. Again!

A minor miracle. The aches and pains are gone Tuesday morning.


I thought they were my companions forever.

Where will affliction flare up next?

Or are you done with me?

My librarian came last Friday and continued the organization.

No. I didn’t bring home a box or two of books to spoil her plans.

She got all my Tolkiens together. At least the common ones. The better ones are locked away.

Chuck's Tolkiens


Then we rediscovered my FOURTH home library. There’s an… “area” at the back of the ground floor that runs the length of the house. There are two glass-fronted antique cases full of some pretty great books. I haven’t looked at them for a long time because I used the area as a dumping ground.

I decided that, to keep true to my course toward personal organization, it should be cleared and organized.

By someone else.

But I did take out about ten boxes of “stuff.”

My wondrous housekeeper came back Wednesday, and I asked her to only work on that area.

When I got home… magic!

Now those books need to be reviewed, maybe culled and likely will spoil the librarian’s master plan.

Designers love people who change their mind. The project can drag on indefinitely.


I’m on an Amtrak train to New York City.

The Northeast Regional service I took started at the BWI train terminal not far from the airport.

Stops in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia and a few other places. The destination is Penn Station Manhattan.

Never a pretty place, I wonder what I will find there.

“The City.” Will it be the dystopian place I read about in the newsfeeds? Or can it still be the city I loved so much before COVID?

The train bumps and sways and slews from side to side. The scenery is sometimes nice but often the back end of towns and cities it passes through. I lost the desire to drive to NYC around 2018. Before that, I would always drive. I liked the trip. I liked being able to load up on stuff you could only acquire in Manhattan. I had favorite stops along the way—going and coming.

That’s changed. You can buy almost anything you want in Frederick, Maryland. Exotic foods? Wegmans has truffles to caviar to things even NYC doesn’t stock. Alcohol? There’s almost nothing you can’t get at Frederick’s upscale liquor stores.

Then there’s the World Wide Web. You buy almost anything online, and it will be delivered tomorrow.

Plus, the Waldorf closed. You could drive under the building easily, and your car would be parked for you. If you bought stuff, you could just bring it downstairs when you were going to checkout and put it in your trunk.

I missed the Waldorf. I felt special staying there. I had my own contact who maintained my “profile” and would get me my preferred room style and often upgrade me to a suite. I was never stuck on the noisy side of the building. The restaurants and bars were iconic.

“Frank Sinatra would always sit in the corner,” the bartender at Sir Harry’s would tell me. (Sinatra maintained his own suite in the hotel from the late 70s to the late 80s.) That bartender knew my name. “The usual?” “Yes.” A perfect Gin Gibson would appear before me with a little bowl of cashews.

Now I bump around from Hilton property to Hilton. I look mostly at price and location.

New York hotel prices have gone crazy since COVID. You can stay at a Times Square Hilton for $132! (Not that I’d want to stay in Times Square.)

Hard times? I don’t know. Maybe I will find out in the next couple of days.

We are pulling into Philly. Another tragic city. It was scary when I went there as a toddler to visit my brother who was going to Penn. Scarier when my fiancee was attending Temple Law School and I would drive to pick her up on Broad Street.

I’m going to the rare book show. NYABF is its main name now, I guess. The New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

I haven’t been since 2019. I was planning to go in March 2020 with a friend who wanted to open a bookstore someday. We went in 2019. Her parents were naturalized doctors from Hong Kong. They forbade her to go even though she was 40. I think they knew something about COVID from people they knew in China. I decided not to go either. People flying in from geographical hotspots might bring the contagion to New York.

I relayed the warning and was accused of awful things. People will state things online they’d never say to your face. It was one of the ugliest episodes in my life. It changed the way I look at a lot of things and a lot of people.

Turns out I was right—or my friend’s parents were.

No one knows how many people got sick.

But I’m ready to return to Manhattan now. I hope it will be a positive experience.

I loved Manhattan—until March 2020. Maybe I will again.

There are some friends I want to see too.

Much of the last four years is a blur. I’ve kept pretty busy—at work, traveling, home on the mountain. But there’s also a huge gap in some parts of my life during the COVID era—which isn’t done yet. I had my only COVID just before last Christmas. I think I still have lingering effects in April.

I’ll be there in an hour. The adventure will begin then.

The week has been a busy one. But then they all are.

Last weekend was carts of books. Easter activities ate into by book work. But I did my duty.

I found some great things but the best ones came in the mail.

The Lusiades is Portugal’s national epic poem. I recall it’s being mentioned when I was there last December. (And where I almost certainly caught the plague.)

FOURTH EDITION OF THE LUSIADES, OF GREAT scarcity. The four editions of the Lusiades published in the sixteenth century are very difficult to come by. The original edition appeared in 1572: only one copy has appeared in the last 70 years (a put together copy with many leaves in facsimile.) The next two editions, 1584 and 1591, offer a diminished and censored text (and still no auction records last 50 years.) This fourth edition, published in 1597, was approved by the censors on 15 November 1594. It has the advantage of being close to the text of 1572 and, according to T. Braga, of suffering only slight differentiations: “no emtanto o livreiro bem sentia a necessidade de se aproxima do texto authentico, e sophistocamente declara no titulo da ediçao” (Braga, p. 35.) Only thrice at auction: In 1970, in 2000 in a repaired copy. In 2015 a copy in Europe with repairs bought in against a 15-25K euros estimate. -0- copies internet. This copy is very clean, some very light dampstaining towards rear of book and in a Zaehnsdorf full leather binding. An exceptional example of a truly rare book.

The other is Vasari’s Lives.

VASARI, GIORGIO. Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori [The Lives of the Artists.] Florence: Giunta, 1568 4to.’s. 3 Parts in 3 Volumes. Large 4to.’s (290), (206), (346) ff, with final blank including woodcut architectural titles with Medici arms in all volumes., with vignette view of Florence; Medallion portrait of author in vol. One, 144 medallion portraits of artists (with one repetition of Vasari portrait), 8 portraits blank as always, stamped final line on K4V, printed cancel on Rrr4r, and ms. Correction in part 3 of vol. 2On leaf Yyyyy3r, as noted by Mortimer. Ex-libris of Frances Evelyn Paton on front endleaf and private library stamp of G(I) 0. Gaetano Bevilacqua of Verona on verso of titles; woodcuts titles cropped at outer edge as usual; slight water damp in gutter in final leaves of volume 1; elsewhere light soiling or spotting. Withal a fresh and stunning example. Bound in antique style calf spine with raised bands, expertly rebacked so well that one has to look really closely to notice. Fore-edges marbled and stained red with slight bleeding into margins (barely.) All three volumes beautiful examples.

First published in two volumes in 1550, Vasari added so much new material that Le Vite affords a rare instance in which the 2nd edition is universally preferred. In addition to the woodcut portraits (the 1550 edition had no illustrations), this edition is augmented by 28 new lives, “updates” contemporary artists into the year 1567, includes Vasari’s own autobiography and adds a technical treatise on the methods of painting. It is this edition which is listed in Printing and the Mind of Man.

Two truly rare books which will be mine until they are sold or my time to hold books ends.

The train is bumping and slewing from side to side.

Soon we will be under the Hudson River.

If New York doesn’t pan out, I’ll have to make do with Northern Italy and then Paris. Maybe Machu Picchu and the Galapagos next fall.

Books and travel. Gardening and woodcutting.

I unloaded another truckload of wood yesterday.

More Wood

The housekeeper was staying late, and I wanted to keep out of her way. I turned her loose on the ugliest part of my house—the back side of the downstairs. She transformed into something wonderful.

I guess that area is my “Fourth Library.” That can now be developed by my librarian, who was in last Friday. She made huge gains in the organization of my home books. She got all my lesser Tolkien books in order.

That was when we rediscovered the downstairs back library.

“Uh oh…”

It’ll be fine.

I had prepared the back room by removing about 10 boxes of things that I really have no idea why I kept in the first place. Fancy tins.

I took a bunch of food into the warehouse to donate to the food bank. Why did I buy mushy peas? Spotted dick?

They’ll get about 25 boxes this week. (That doesn’t include the couple boxes I’m taking in—they are “en route.”)

April Food Donation

I estimate that is about 600 cans or more. People bring them in with a coupon to get a good deal on books at our stores. You can find out about these sales and others by subscribing to our e-list.

New York

The hotel was a 20-minute walk from the renovated Penn Station. It is gorgeous! Not the creepy dungeon it was before, with dodgy shops and the feel of an old bus station.

The hotel is a disappointment. A new narrow high rise with only 8 small rooms per floor. But we are just here to sleep. Across the street is an authentic-looking Biergarten. Reichenbach Hall. (Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland is where Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty met their doom together—only they didn’t. Arthur Conan Doyle was forced to resurrect his hero due to popular demand.)

My son wanted lunch, so I agreed to cross the street and sit with him. I had a König Ludwig Dunkel Bier as my liquid lunch. There were three European soccer on TVs behind the bar.

Then we walked to the Morgan Library 900 feet away. I’d like to say that was by design. It was pure luck. I didn’t want to pressure him into going. He hasn’t been a museum-ish person since he was a little kid. But now he is in the trade, so I thought he might like the spectacle.

He did. And I was very gratified. There was a Beatrix Potter exhibition in the downstairs gallery, and that was pretty fun. But I had seen the big one at the V&A not that long ago.

We ventured into JP’s office with his massive desk. He could sit and stare across the room at the huge canvas of himself hung above the fireplace. The little vault off to the side protected by a railing you can lean over and crane your neck at the treasures.

JP Desk

Then over to the library itself. Dizzying with its acres of caged books and murals painted high above.

Morgan Library

He enjoyed the gift shop I led him to and found something for his wife.

I found some Poe tea and may return tomorrow for the Little Prince pillow.

Poe Tea + Little Prince Pillow

The place is a temple to a man who decided to spend some of his fortune on books.

Now I’m back in the hotel room, putting my feet up. He’s watching soccer—likely at the Biergarten. Chelsea is playing. We’ll taxi the 40 blocks north to the book show when he gets back. I’m in no rush to get there for opening. There’s always tomorrow.

Dante and Blake. Austen and Plath. Beats, Pre-Raphaelites, saints and sinners. Isaac Newton and The Double Helix. Kelmscott, Trianon, illuminated manuscripts. Shakespeare and Gutenberg. The Beatles and The Punks. Letterpress and calligraphy. The Little Prince and The Great Gatsby.

A world of rare books and paper in a venerable old armory building with a soaring barrel roof.

A vast museum where everything has price and can be yours if your pockets are deep enough.

Chelsea tied Man U in the last minute and then won in the last seconds. My son was happy when he returned.

We dressed. Nearly twins in blue blazers and khakis. Not my idea.

We quickly caught a cab which deftly weaved through rush hour traffic from lane to lane to lane to lane up Madison Avenue before cutting over to Park and letting us out just after 65th Street.

Up stone steps. Through massive wooden doors ten feet high or more. A darkened soaring atrium. More steps up to the small rectangle of welcoming glowing light a hundred yards ahead—the entrance doors to the ABAA NY Book Fair.

We crossed the threshold into a world of books. Booksellers from all over the world—mostly Europe though. Colleagues of a sort, but in a different league from my book trade. I suppose you could call what I do inclusive. Little league to major league. These booksellers are more select, often more academic. Some can spend hours or days on one book.

I can’t afford that.

We walked the aisles.

I passed the booths whose owners I didn’t know. I passed some booths peopled by people I don’t like (or who I think don’t like me.) I entered booths where I’d be welcomed. Indeed, sometimes embraced.

It has been a half decade. I am quite a different person. Wonder Book has evolved into a different, more multifarious entity.

New York City is different.

The world is different.

The books are unchanged. They endure.

The books abide, waiting patiently upon their shelves. Some for centuries. Without misuse or a poor environment, they will rest upon someone’s shelves indefinitely.

500 years. 20 owners?



We met up with Gerry, who was frustrated with lack of autograph material worthy of his attention or priced too stratospherically. I could tell he wanted a cocktail and dinner. I was ok leaving an hour early. Likely save me some money, and it had been a long day.

His had been longer. He drove down from New England in a snowstorm.

The booksellers at the show had an even longer day. Whether from France or New Jersey, they had to get to the Upper East Side. Queue to unload their vehicle unless their stock was being delivered to their booth in big hard-shelled trunks. Unpack. Set up their display. (Some plan the precise layout—even staging the books—at home.) Some spend all Wednesday setting up. Some can do it Thursday before the show opens. A lot of commerce takes place before the public is let in. Big fish feed off little fish. Specialists use their arcane knowledge to transform what appears to be a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

We headed out into the chilly night to the venerable Sel et Poivre. I haven’t been there for 30 years. A lot has changed. It hasn’t.

Gin Gibson, risotto, moules mariniere, salad Nicoise, Chateau Neuf du Pape, steak with roquefort sauce…

The long taxi ride. Faster this time. Up to the room and flat on the bed.

I need to send this off.

I want to see the city. Museums. Italian cookies at Ferrara’s. Winnie-the-Pooh at the NYPL. Maybe a martini at Bemelmans.

If you return next week, I’ll tell you about it.

4 Comments on Article

  1. Gary Fowler commented on

    Have no doubt: I will return next week. Your blog is a highlight of my Saturday mornings. Lifelong bibliophile; selling books etc small scale in my retirement; just opened our first booth in a local antique mall a couple of months ago. I’m enjoying every bit of your journey(s), geographically, personally, and commercially, and very much appreciate your open sharing. Take care, my unmet friend!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind Gary.
      Thank you!
      I will try to keep them interesting.

  2. Terry commented on

    I feel your pain from what they are calling long covid. I had Covid in February. The after effects are still making me miserable. The cough, the aches and pains! They say takes 6-8 weeks with that. I don’t agree!
    Hope you are enjoying your trip! Would love to see picture of the baby!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Terry!
      I’ll get you one!

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