Things are Changing

Vast Vellum

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I’ve been SHOT!

I was putting Merry & Pippin in the pen. The truck was running. I was about to hop in and bump down the mountain to work.

My iPhone started vibrating in my pocket. It was a number I didn’t recognize.

‘Spam,’ I thought.

I tapped the speaker button to answer.

“It’s your lucky day!”

Now I was really suspicious. The voice was far too chipper.

“Did you want a vaccination?”


“We have appointments until 11:50 this morning.”

“I can come in now…”

She ran down a list of questions.

I rushed inside to change into a short-sleeved shirt.

Yesterday, I had called a number a couple friends gave me. They told me to ignore the prompts. I left a message, leaving my name, age and chronic health problems (I think that may have been the key.)

I no longer have “Vaccine Envy.”

So a lot of what I wrote below is no longer relevant to me.

But it is what is going on.

I think I’m the last in my circle to have been shot.


It is supposed to get in the 70s this week. The 10-day forecast shows nothing below 50. Maybe we will get an early spring. The average last freeze date here is April 20th, I think.

It is good to be outdoors and enjoy it. I picked up 20 bags of topsoil this morning at the Southern States Farmers’ Co-op. I’ll dress the new gardens I put in at the warehouse last spring.

COVID gardens…

I haven’t been shot yet. You would think a state like Maryland would have its act together. I’m in Tier 3. They recently started shooting Tier 3. But the guidelines they are using are not what I expected. Instead of Tier 3 going by age “group”, they are going by birth year???

Tier 2 is people over 75 and some kinds of “essential” workers.

Now in Tier 3, the 74-year-olds get called up first. Then 73… I have eight years to wait?

Meanwhile, a lot of friends have found ways to get shot. Grocery store workers and teachers and maybe even realtors are getting shot. Kids in their 20s and 30s.

Nothing about “essential” book warehouse workers. Or bookstore retail workers who interact with the public.

The Frederick County’s COVID website says 278 people have died. 0.7% are under 40. I think that equals 2 people. 4.7% of the deaths are 40-59. I think that is 13 people. 94.6% of the deaths are 60 years and older. That is 263 people.

Lawyers can get shot if they go to Baltimore, I hear. (Didn’t Shakespeare have something to say about that?)

I am too young! (My estate lawyer kept saying that as well when I Zoomed with her last week—planning my death.)

I guess I am kind of a youngish old…LOL.

I can still grind it out, though.

The trip on Friday to the university’s rare book library was a marathon. We left just after 6am and didn’t get back til 10pm.

But, boy, it was thrilling.

I found a lot of “sleepers” I’d missed during the preview Caryn and I did over two days in February.

I think there will be a lot more.

Clif, Annika, Caryn and I filled my Excursion with 40 boxes and the van with 160 or so. We haven’t unloaded them yet. Monday was too busy—going to the three stores for van swaps and other catch up issues from last week.

I want this collection to be handled with care. We will set the boxes in Gaylords for protection and stability. I’m trying to wrap my head around how to begin processing the treasure hoard.

Plus, we have all the usual treasures drifting in from…who knows where?

Well, I do know some sources. An excellent up-and-coming bookseller is sending me his castoffs from a vast First Edition collection. 30,000 novels, I think. A lot of it Hypermodern stuff. Some so average and common they get sent to Books by the Foot to sell by spine color.

But there are a lot of fun and unusual authors and some vintage literature and mystery. A lot of it is signed or has loose signed bookplates laid-in.

I’m the only one here with a good feel for marketable modern fiction and crap modern fiction.

Soooo, I get tasked with them. I had them carted up by the young highschool kid on Saturday, and I spent a good part of Sunday going through 100s and 100s of shiny Brodarted modern books and a sprinkling of vintage. I had to look inside each to verify it was a first and to check for signatures or signed bookplates.

It was like eating popcorn. Fun and sort of mindless.

Also, there were many fond memories of books and authors that used to help keep the doors of Wonder Book open during the Hypermodern boom…until the arrival of internet bookselling killed that market:

Supply and Demand.

I put two full days in on Saturday and Sunday. No idea how many cartloads of books with “potential” passed before my eyes.

Sunday evening I was toast.

I toasted my labors with a shot…maybe 3… of Heaven’s Door. I bought 3 types when I went to see Bob Dylan in October 2019. HD is his product. There was a table set up vending it. They gave me a hat and some pins and other collectibles. I am such a junker.

Heaven's Door

It is quite good…the Bourbon. It sort of leaves me tangled up in blue. (Whatever that means.)

I haven’t opened the HD Rye and something else. If you use something, you’re not a collector.

But then I don’t want to die with a bunch of untested bottles of whiskey.






70. I left a slow-burning smoldering fire all day—just to keep the home’s bones warm.

That evening, I was doing yard work. The sweet scent of smoldering cherry wood floated down the roof, over the eaves, down the slope to where I worked. It gently enveloped me, and I was reminded of my father-in-law’s frequent pipe smoking—including in restaurants—so long ago. I used to bring him exotic mixes from famous smoke shops in cities I visited until one time he told me:

“I can’t take these anymore. My doctor says so. Cancer. I’ll send this to a friend in Ohio.”

It was also reminiscent of the hookah I smoked with Barbara Mertz and Joan Hess in Cairo. The stuff they put in hookah’s bowl is decidedly sweet and fruity.

Some firewoods smell better than others. And a lot has to do with how hot the wood is burning.

There’s not much red cedar around here. There are no conifers in my part of the forest. A few years ago, I harvested a big dead one from the roadside at the foot of the mountain. It has an amazing aromatic scent. I’ve saved some for special occasions. There have not been any in recent times. But when I would burn some, I would go outside just to smell the smoke, no matter how cold. Inside, the wood pops and sparks, and it’s not good to burn too much in a woodstove—but since it is rare here, that is not a problem.

I just got a text from the county about vaccine! Maybe my turn is coming!

No. They’re only talking about 1949 and older. And they are encouraging me to get a shot elsewhere if one comes along.

Mining for Seuss.

The Seuss bubble continued into this week. I don’t know how long it will last. I wrote last week that there are millions of used copies of the 6 titles which will be not published any longer. But then many people are unaware that used books are a “thing.”

Demand continues to be high for the 6 titles and some of the other Seuss books as well.

This building has over 4 million books.

I KNEW we had copies of the books here…somewhere.

The first source would be the Gaylords of assorted kids books we stock for donation to underfunded schools, teachers, battered shelters, etc…

Kids Gaylords

We also offer them “By the Box” on our website.

We would often toss Seuss books in that direction. They are so common.

I instructed that all kids books (except Toddler and Young Adult sorts—there wouldn’t be any Seuss in those) be boxed up for future orders and any copies of the hot titles be sent to research.

The prices are kind of crazy—but that is the dictum of “Supply and Demand.” If we didn’t put them out at market prices, resellers would just buy them and mark them up themselves.

(We experienced this with the first wave of buyers on the night the books went viral, and our computers were overwhelmed with duplicate orders.)

And anything Seuss is selling well now as well. One report says Seuss sales are up 400%.

So the fallout from all this is that people are buying books—which is always a good thing. Maybe some are worried as well.

Madeline’s Mountain…

I’ve written before about the incredible backlog of books we have that have been sent to be researched to determine their bibliographic points and/or value. Madeline has been doing research—mostly solo—for many years here. Annika has been doing a lot since the summer of 2020. But the mountain has just not shrunk much or at all.

We would always send old Seuss books or Seuss books in dust jacket to Madeline to look up. A lot of the points to determine if a Seuss is a first or not are quite arcane.

You simply can’t tell just by looking at them. Ideally, you get a copy of the excellent Seuss Bibliography compiled by the amazing Helen and Marc Younger and Dan Hirsch. Helen passed away a while back. She was an amazing bookseller—as are Marc and Dan.

I suspected there were a lot of old Seuss books in that mountain.

Madeline's Book Mountain

I estimate some of those tubs have been in that pile for 5 years or more.

I decided to nibble around the edges—a test mining operation, as it were.


I found about a dozen just poking around in the perimeter yellow tubs.

On Wednesday, Annika and I dismantled the mountain. It was pretty heavy work.

Madeline's Book Mountain Dismantled

When everything was spread out and accessible, I tasked Annika:

“Look through every tub for Seuss gold!”


“If you see anything else interesting you want to evaluate, pull that out too!”

A couple hours later, she had a couple feet of old Seuss books.

I told her to go ahead and start looking them up.

I put the pile back together.

It was no longer a mountain. It is now more of a plateau.

Madeline's Book Plateau

We’ve been finding some Seuss during the regular course of sorting as well. We estimate we sort through about 400,000 random books per month. Seuss is one of the bestselling authors of all time, so it is just natural that the 5 sorting stations would turn up a good number of Seuss of all vintages.

Of course, now any Seuss books we come across get moved to the front of the line.

Now I am wracking my brain to think of any other places here that Seuss may be hiding out in…


“We are out of Gaylords.” (This is urgent as we need empty ones to process pulp material to get it out of here.)

“We are out of empty carts.”

“We are out of boxes.”

“We are out of yellow tubs.”

“We are out of empty bookcases.”

All these things throw us into crisis mode. The whole machine can come to a grinding halt if any crucial parts are missing.

A week ago Thursday, we ran out of Gaylords. Our regular supplier let us down. I was tasked with finding an emergency supplier, someone who could get us the giant corrugated boxes immediately. I did Google searches. I made phone calls.

I lucked out. A company not very far away specialized in used boxes. They could get be 50 at $10 the next day. “Delivered.”

Of course, Clif and I were away at the rare book library Friday. Someone else had to wrestle the unwieldy floppy beasts from the delivery struck. BUT were back in business!

And I found a new supplier!

Today, I was called by the father of a recently deceased bookseller acquaintance. The estate is being screwed, I am led to believe by an evil landlord who has been holding the poor guy’s books hostage for back rent and maybe other things. They have a brief window to get them out this weekend. They want to bring hundreds of big tubs of books.

“We are out of space.” (This is me talking to myself.)

I surveyed the loading docks and other floor space.

I just want to walk away from it all.

I’ve spent every day for months now grinding away. Now it appears we have lost the battle.

Deflating. Depressing. Discouraging.

Will I have to refuse more books?

I went out and surveyed…

“Hmmmm…we can double stack the 24 surprise pallets of media we got from a mega charity…”


We will get through this weekend.


Our days are numbered.

We haven’t even unloaded the treasure from the university’s Rare Book Room.

Friday 6 AM

The fire is out. I let it die Wednesday. I believe it is the first time since November—maybe even October—since I intentionally let the fire die.

It is 65 degrees inside and 62 out.

I can hear turkeys out in the woods. Gobbling frantically for mates. Yesterday a herd of 20 or so deer stared at me from a hundred yards beyond the dog’s pen. They acted as if they could see me, but because they were frozen, they were invisible to me. Eventually, one broke ranks, and the others turned tail and followed—white tails bounding up and down, disappearing into the forest.

Life is moving outside. Outside, life is slowly rising from the earth.

The warehouse gardens face south. The sun beats against the 20 foot beige walls. Those factors create a microclimate. Things have been blooming in there for a month now.

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I came directly home every night this week. There is a lot to be done this time of year.

I had a lot of wood to split.

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Some of those chunks are seventy pounds or so.

I find cutting wood Zen-like. Same with splitting. I wear noise-canceling headphones. I line up the wood with the best point for the wedge to strike.


I don’t find stacking wood to be very Zen-like. That is just work.

Plus, I continued to blow leaves out of the beds. It may surprise you, but there are actually a lot of leaves in a forest. They need to be removed from the gardens so fragile plants won’t be smothered. I left a lot on the driveway.

Driveway Leaves

I’ll keep driving over them until they turn to powder.

Fridays… It is the day my life changes from public to private.

The discipline of writing this weekly story takes over much of Friday. When it gets posted at the end of the day, much of the warehouse staff is leaving. Is this story number 200? If not, 200 is not far away.

(191, my editor informs me.)

The weekends here are different. There are very few people who work in the warehouse on weekends with me. Last Sunday, it was me alone. Saturday, three others were in.

This weekend will be very busy if those threatening to bring books follow through on their threats.

Plus, we have a prison librarian and teachers from an underfunded elementary school coming in to pick out as many free books as they want.

I should just tell people the warehouse is “CLOSED” weekends.

I don’t have the heart. Those who need to bring books on weekends usually have good, if not desperate, reasons.

I do caution them there will likely be no help for them. They will have to unload themselves. But still, I have to respond to their text or phone call when they arrive: “Here.”

I will pull away from my work. Go outside into the dockyard. Open the heavy swinging metal gate. Let the dogs inside. Open a dock door and get them set up to unload after they back in.

“Text me when you’re done.”

When they are done, I will likely have to find a blank check. Or I will need to record a drop off form.

They will pull away. I’ll let Merry and Pippin out of the pen. The dogs will follow me out into the dockyard. I’ll unlatch the gate and swing it closed. I’ll probably toss treats or golfballs for them to chase before going back inside and settling back into whatever project I was working on.

Last Friday, I was already on my way to the university at 6:30am.

It was a dream. Certainly in the top three collections I’ve ever acquired.

We packed and removed boxes all day long. Across the hall from the rare book room was a tiny elevator. One of us would squeeze into it with a cart laden with boxed books. Down it would go to the bottom level. The path to the loading doors where the vehicles were parked wound a hundred yards or so through the bowels of the building.

We packed and loaded until 5 PM or so.

We had been given the keys. I gave them to Stuart to lock up the “Room” and return to security.

There is still a lot of material there. We will likely return next week for the rest.

We still have not unloaded anything from last Friday. There hasn’t been time. And I want to be meticulous in handling this collection.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I did unload one book last Saturday. It is an enormous old vellum thing. Far too big for any box. I was concerned because vellum likes to warp.

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Plus, I wanted to look at it.

I’ve never had an old Dutch atlas before. This De Wit was buried—virtually hidden. It makes me think of Vermeer and his painting with a map on the wall behind the lovers.

That was the way the world was then.

California was an island.

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Governor Hogan lifted most of the restrictions this week.

It is exactly a year since the panic was setting in. Charlie and John from the Charlie Byrne Bookshop in Galway Ireland were finishing their annual buying trip here. Their flight home was problematic and soon all the flights were canceled. The world was canceled.

There was only an inkling of the seriousness of the disease.

Then on March 23, 2020, Governor Hogan shut everything down—including Wonder Book.

My hair is about a foot long now.

COVID hair.

I said I wouldn’t cut it until I didn’t have to wear a mask any longer.

Maybe I’ll amend that to: “when I get my second shot.”

It is tedious combing it out.

But then, it might just be fun to learn how to braid.

6 Comments on Article

  1. Terry commented on

    Glad you finally got shot! It tends to help give some sense of relief. Like maybe things can improve! And with the 2nd shot scheduled there may be a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel! Would love to see when everything starts blooming around your place.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks for your help Terry!
      I’ll let you know when things start popping up there!

  2. Rick Banning commented on

    OK Chuck, at some point I trust you will tell us about some of the finds from the university library? And perhaps why they deaccessioned rare books? A financial crunch? A head librarian with a sudden allergy to old book dust mites? Rick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Rick,

      I’ll get into it more.
      Likely going there this week to finish.
      We got the two vehicles unloaded this weekend.
      It is a small Catholic University. They are pivoting to nursing and health care teaching.
      This exotic collection – really a melange – didnt fit into their core.
      They kept some of the Catholic material.
      But Robert Frost and Incunabula aren’t things they would use there any more.
      They needed money. And they need not maintain this exotica as well.

  3. Michael Dirda commented on

    Chuck, whenever you talk about being overwhelmed with unusual material needing to be evaluated, I’m tempted to retire from reviewing and ask for a job at Wonder Books. Will work for trade.–Michael

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you Michael!
      Sometimes it is just too much.
      But then I can’t think of anything I would rather do.
      Just I just keep on nibbling around the edges.
      Buying is more fun than evaluating.
      Evaluation is a necessary burden.

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