Things of Beauty

Hellebore

Saturday, March 5. Just after 5.

Well, it is just you and me. I am glad you’re not Russian vodka. Canadian.

Vodka

Well, if you were Russian, I’d be obligated to destroy you. I would pour you out!

Into a glass.

I’d complete your destruction by imbibing.

Just doing my duty.

It was a long Saturday with books and carts. I’d been away the previous two weekends. I can’t remember when that happened before. Some great and beautiful books.

Last Week's Finds

And some had come in from the ABAA California LIVE Book Fair. I didn’t attend but bought some books from pictures friends sent me.

I opened a package from my friend Laurelle Swan. It had a fine press edition of Keats’ “Endymion.” She specializes in beautiful rare books.

Press Keats' Endymion

The opening lines are well known. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever…”

My duty.

And my joy.

It is 62 degrees. That is why I am sitting outside at the end of a very long day’s work alone.

Well, Travis was here, but I barely saw him.

Tomorrow and Monday are in the 70s.

I came out to transpose some poems I wrote in Sicily. That was a magical time.

Don’t worry. I won’t impose them on you.

The dogs are scampering about out here in the fenced in dockyard as if it is spring. They just turned 11. 77 in dog years. They haven’t slowed a step. I will endeavor to keep up with their example.

Sitting outside for the first time this year—the sun at my back… another season passing.


Wednesday

It is 4 a.m. when no well one wakes. 4 a.m. when the dark gods rule.

Black all about but for the warm orange eye glowing from the mute wood fire just steps away.

War, terror, slaughter half a world away. Meaningless conquest in these modern times. Serpent-eyed, lizard-faced monsters throwing hellfire and molten metal into the mud and battered cities enslaved for so much of history. A very old way of warfare in a very old place. Old alliances threatening to draw more in that want no fight.

I think of World War I when old paper alliances sucked all of Europe into meaningless war—mostly pushed by royalty to preserve the Old Order. And World War II where a charismatic (I don’t get that part) leader—monster and madman—led his country, whose population felt they’d been wronged territorially and diplomatically by the victors of the first World War, to their own destruction.

That’s why history is so important. That is why revisionist history is so destructive.

Read REAL books. Ignore the “pundits” who are so often clueless as to history and context.

More darkness covers this unhappy planet.

I curled back up, and a draught of Lethe’s potions gave me a little more rest, a little more escape.

Dawn comes with no sunrise. My world is clothed in gray; it will rain all day.

Bird song announces it must be spring soon. As do the earliest blossoms, showing small candles of color against the dun forest floor. Last autumn’s dead brown leaves blanket everything—all but the tree trunks and boldest boulders.

Hellebores, aconite and a handful of narcissus are dots of color here and there.

Hellebore… Christmas Rose has been so successful up here. Seedlings have been popping up for years. Dark green leathery evergreen leaves and flowers that usually keep their faces cast down as if in shame. I welcome them. The exotic now common. I transplant them in all the beds.

Hellebore

And rank upon rank of green spears rising from beneath the earth herald the fireworks to come. Clusters, hoards, rows of daffodils will soon begin the several months of yellow, gold, orange and cream. Exotic shapes add to the interest and beauty.

The Plague is ending, it seems. War has marched onto the scene. Is famine the next terror we will see?

The Four Horsemen. Is it time?

All I can do is work. Books down in the valley. Nature up here in the hermitage.


Thursday

A cold morning. 30 degrees.

I stoked the fire. Put the dogs out one at a time. The giant amaryllis bulb I bought last fall from Van Engelen is about to open.

I set it in the bay window when its phallic stalks became impressive. It opened this much overnight. It will be a monster blossom.

There are numerous amaryllis blooming or about to bloom throughout the house. Maybe a dozen of the 75 potted plants I brought inside last fall harbor bulbs that I summer over outside and winter over inside. They are mostly dormant in summer and coexist with whatever else is in the pot.

They often surprise me as I pad through a room—never suspecting there was a giant blossom that opened with no warning.

It has been a strange week.

No crises. No urgent problems.

There must be something wrong.

Monday, I rode down to Gaithersburg with Travis. Books by the Foot needed some subjects pulled. “Worn” hardcover history, biography, art. I planned to write on the trip, but my lawyer called went over the case that was delayed yet again—COVID. Our dialogue took up the whole trip. That was NOT a free ride. On the way back, the truck convoy was taking up one lane on the other side of I 270.

I enjoyed pulling the books so much that when I got back, I went to the Frederick store and did more culling just for the fun of it.

We’ve been working on a massive reorganization at that store, and it is finally taking shape. We are moving most of the countries around to give them more space and to unite foreign language books with books about the countries where those languages are spoken. German books will be in Germany, for example. We are reuniting all of Europe and bringing Asia together geographically as well. My son has taken the task to heart and is doing a masterful job creating a new world order in the Frederick Wonder Book. When I got back to the warehouse, I discovered I’d left my laptop there and had to return for it—so I culled some more! From there, I went directly home, as has become the almost invariable custom during COVID. There are no more Happy Hours for me.

We have a new shipping partner. It may mean our prices can come down. But with $4 gas, we will likely be stuck with cost increases. This company wants us to supply our own Gaylords. I found a great deal. But we had to take 520 of them.

Gaylords

Clif was not pleased.

Since it is staying light out later, I have been working on more outdoor projects. This time of year, they usually involve wood.

Cut Wood

I’m dragging in more deadfalls to burn for heat. This also eliminates the unsightly dead branches littering the forest floor. Multitasking and good exercise too.


The Troublesome Tree.

For 4 or 5 years, what was once a little Redbud seedling has been growing in the gravel border only a few inches from the driveway. Last fall, I pruned it severely in anticipation of transplanting it to a more appropriate and safer place. It was now over 3 feet tall with a pretty thick trunk. I assumed it was growing in very rocky material underground. Monday evening, I searched out the big gray-handled mattock. It was where I’d left it last fall when I was planting bulbs in a new bed and needed to remove stone often. I set to it and indeed sparks and stone chips flew with each strike. The tree’s roots had spread every which way, trying to find routes around the underground rocks. Eventually I got it free, although I did need to sever a couple big roots. I carried it down the drive and found a perfect spot for it behind a rock wall. I gave it plenty of room in loose soil. I added some composted manure as top dressing. I carried down two watering cans. I did the best I could. I hope it will leaf out when the time comes. At least I tried.

Redbud Hole

Since I’ve returned from Sicily, I’ve made pasta almost every night. I heat a pan of salted water atop the woodstove, and when it boils, set some pasta in it. I currently have four types open on the counter and vary things that way. After 7 minutes or so, I strain it and spill it into a heated bowl. Olive oil. Truffle salt. A little pepper. Stir in some jarred truffle sauce. It is so wonderful. I haven’t tired of it yet.

This week, I ate my pasta with Margaret Rutherford (Dame O.B.E.) playing Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. There are many books featured in the 4 movies, and I won’t give away the plots by saying how they were involved. Rutherford’s real-life husband, Stringer Davis, was cast as a shy introvert librarian that Marple invariably drags into the cozy yet dangerous mystery. She is delightful in the role.


A friend sent me a Washington Post story about books as decor, and we were featured in it. I fear my legacy will be purple-spined books rather than the millions of real and rare and unique and beloved-for-their-contents books that is what we really do here.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2022/03/08/where-unsold-books-end-up/

It was a great story. Now I’ll have to go into DC and visit the Rasika West End Restaurant and see their books. Anything that promotes books in any way is fine by me. Anything that gets books in the public eye can’t be bad. We sent a nice order to Law and Order this week. I’m not allowed to tell you what. You will just have to watch for them.

Speaking of colors, I came up with this mix this week:

Ukranian Flag Mix

And then there are these book stories—all two hundred and… whatever of them. That’s a legacy of sorts. And I think a new writing form, thanks to instant photos, music links, fiction, history, current events… and, of course—”po-ems.”

Well, if the Pulitzer Prize Board wants to find me, my address is easily located. Charles Roberts ℅ Wonder Book… LOL.


Books are pouring in, but not the same rate as last year. We are at a sort of equilibrium here. That is good.

Larry has been bringing in more and more framed material and loose prints and… stuff. The stores are now galleries as well as book and music shops.

This little hoard of ties was actually pretty cool:

Jerry Garcia Ties

Jerry Garcia ties. 100% silk. Made in the USA. I bought some of these when they first came out. I wonder what Jerry thought about them. I wonder when the last time he wore them was? There was a period in the late 80s, I think, where they decided to go a little Hollywood and finally tried making some money.

As I am writing this, a text came in that Hagerstown needs a van swap. Looks like I’m on call for this. I went from the office to loading docks just now to check to see if a vehicle was ready. On the way back, I passed a cart with a blue slip of paper on it with my printed name. Something compelled me to peek.

Virginia Woolf in jacket. Another. Faulkner in leather. The Poems of Ossian—one of history’s great literary frauds. I wrote a paper on that in college.

Recent Finds

And when I saw this anonymous thing, I got the tingles:

Keats' Endymion

Odd, another “Endymion.” And last night I woke and read a limited edition “letter” poem Keats wrote to Reynolds. I had bought that from Cynthy in Philadelphia a few months ago. How it came to hand and to bed this particular night… I don’t know. I was moved by it. I set it gently on the floor and then curled back up to sleep.

It took me back to Rome in December 2019 when I visited Keats’ house (where he died) and his grave in the “Protestant” graveyard.

(When I returned, I had a terrible flu with uncontrollable coughing and many other symptoms—I thought I might have had an early case of COVID when the Plague began coming into full flower a few months later.)

I also remember visiting his house north of London in Hampstead Heath long ago. If I recall correctly, his lonely chair sits just inside the French doors opening to the garden outside.

John Keats Portrait by Joseph Severn

Sometimes I wonder who is pulling the cosmic strings.

Anyway, the book appears to be “right.” There is some debate about points. Ours has the 1 line erratum leaf and the 5 line errata slip tipped in.

No ads. “some bibliographers call for 2 pages of ads… Wordsworth’s copy had 8 pages… Wise’s* copy had no ads…”

* From Annika:

Thomas James Wise was a bibliophile who collected the Ashley Library, now housed by the British Library. The “Ashley Library, Catalogue, III” is one of the more common citations I’m seeing for this Keats.

These are some of the most common citations I see: MacGillivray A2; Ashley III:13; Tinker 1419; Hayward 232.

Link to the auction record (also attached as separate file.) https://www.rarebookhub.com/book_records/131315/print_single

Best of all our is in the publisher’s cloth binding with the anonymous paper label on the spine.

Keats' Endymion Spine

Better than best of all is the opening line:

Keats' Endymion Opening

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever…”

Tingles.

We do good work here.

I sometimes become jaded or frustrated with the official duties. I allow myself to get caught up in the minutiae.

Then something like this.

Affirmation. (Sometimes I think divine affirmation. What else explains things like this?)

So, I will come to work tomorrow. And this weekend. And as long as I can walk and see and lift a book.

Why did I ask for a summer job in 1980 at Carl and Eleanor Sickles’ humble Book Alcove?

Maybe I was guided.

(Annika’s rapid research was amazing. I’m admittedly not good at that stuff. I’m more… ummmm, instinctual. It has worked thus far. For that matter—why did I ask her if she wanted to try working at the warehouse a couple of years ago?)

Coincidences, the cynics would say.

But I believe. In magic?

There are thousands of examples of magic where I live which are just about to bloom. There are thousands of rescued wonders in this vast warehouse building I purchased in 2013.

(For that matter, HOW did the building become available and affordable in our direst need?)

Ok. Enough blind faith.

I’ll need to go out and look at that cart more closely! Maybe I missed something!


Friday, March 11

Official spring is 10 days away.

Last night I DID go to Happy Hour—although in COVID times most places are not having specials or discounts. I’m meeting a couple—old friends. They used to go to the Tasting Room every Thursday with a little entourage. I’d join them sometimes. They had been the type that cocooned for much of the plague. Holed up. But they’d agreed to meet me there. I got there a few minutes early and sat alone at the end of the bar. I ordered a Negroni. My first post COVID Frederick Happy Hour cocktail. I was checking my phone when the stemmed glass flew into the air and splashed all over my hoodie and jeans. The glass crashed to floor in a hundred pieces. I got off my stool and backed away. Someone appeared immediately and swept up the mess. I seated myself. The bartender apologized profusely. “I don’t know what happened!?”

“I think the drink committed suicide,” I rejoined.

It was a Flying Negroni. You don’t drink it. You wear it.

She replaced my cocktail. I was damp. Uncomfortable. But then laughed to myself and considered that I’d just been baptized in some manner.

My friends appeared. We toasted to the end of things and the new beginning and to being back at a place that was once so familiar. Drinks and a wonderful dinner at the bar. I paid my bill and noted I’d been charged for the flying Negroni. I didn’t complain. I’d dried off pretty much by then.

If all goes according to plan, Charlie and John from Galway will be at the Frederick store early tomorrow. I’ll meet them with a vanload of yellow tubs. I hope they fill them all.

Things are returning to normal. Maybe this time for good.

Well, sort of normal…

The minimum wage will be $15 soon. The high school kids will be happy. Gas is well over $4 a gallon. The National Debt just climbed over 30 trillion.

But the books are the same. I can hunker down with my wood and stone and plants. All unchanged.

6 Comments on Article

  1. Mary Hill commented on

    Chuck,

    Your pasta recipe sounds delicious! Do you recommend a truffle sauce brand? Or did this come back from Italy and no chance of finding it here?

    Ciao,
    Mary

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Mary,
      I get some great pasta and truffle stuff from Marshalls and Home Goods – from Italy

      I’ll send some pictures.

      C

      1. Michael Dirda replied on

        I read the books by the foot story earlier today–Glad to see you were a prominent part of it. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to Rasika–I can never remember the names of restaurants–but I know that Marian used to go there with friends and likes it.
        Sigh. I hoped to get up to Frederick before all the vintage treasures got picked up by your Irish friends. Oh, well. I’ll just have to visit Dublin to see what I missed.
        I wish the world would get on an even keel for a while. The war in Ukraine is heart-breaking and scary. For too long now, it’s been one crisis after another.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          They only take store stock!
          They have a beautiful shop in Galway! As do friends at Kenny’s.

          I’ll be here for a while before heading out again.
          Come mid week if you want to join us.
          C

  2. Terry Sayler commented on

    Love the story and pictures of the flowers. I am going to have to locate a “Christmas rose”,it is beautiful!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I’ll get you some!They need shade

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