Time Crumbling in My Hands

The House Without the Door


A gardener cannot look upon his failures in a disappointed or despondent way.

Karel Čapek wrote (I paraphrase—from long ago memory):

A gardener’s failures are to be expected.

In life, things die. Things flourish. Things languish.

A gardener’s failures should be seen as opportunities.

For every failure opens a spot in the garden to try something else.

A garden survives on a grand scale by a tender. The garden is tended to in its entirety until it is abandoned. But while it is attended, it is a panoply of experiments. If a garden is a finite, circumscribed space, there is a place for everything and everything has its place.

When any one plant over thrives and takes more space than it is given, it must be thinned. If there is space elsewhere, it can be divided. The divisions are transplanted to other spots in the garden.

When any plant fails, it leaves a vacancy in the garden. That vacancy cries for filling. The gardener may plant something tried and true, a plant with a very great chance of success.

Or the gardener may experiment. The gardener may set a plant in the space with which he has no experience.

A garden is a living tapestry. It is constantly changing except in the winter when it is dormant.

The Equinox

The night is chill. I wear flannel pajamas. I lie in bed between flannel sheets, beneath two woolen blankets. Yet I keep the window open. The wind in the leaf-laden trees whispers and hisses at the same time. It is a kind of sea song in the mountain forest. I let the cold air pour in through the open window. It flows over me. All it touches is a bit of face exposed for breath. Nested amongst large feather filled pillows, I am very warm. The occasional katydids are the only ones singing out in the black night. Gone are the spring peepers—three frogs with alien sounding chirps. Gone the summer cicadas’ pulsating buzzing drowning out the crickets. The katydid chorus has contracted. The extremely loud “call and response” of the 100,000s is muted by the cold. At their loudest, I will often put tissue in my ears if I can’t sleep with the noise.

They repeat:

“Katy did…

Katy didn’t…

Katy did…”

Swelling and ebbing.

The autumn breeze is blowing the last of summer away.

I will begin a new journal in the morning. The current book still has 50 or so blank pages remaining. I am tired of this book, this volume. It needs to be numbered (18?) and put away. I don’t want to see it anymore, much less hold it and write in it.


I usually write in the blank books right up til the end. This journal, begun in March, has recorded very bad times. The few good times…well, I struggle to remember them. There was the wondrous feeling of relief and success when the business reopened and those who helped build it with me became aware that it would almost certainly survive.

There was great relief emerging from the darkest days into the merely dark months.

What will the next blank book be filled with?

Fall certainly. Then winter.

I awoke to more cold air flowing in through all the open windows. Dawn illuminated the bright light green forest canopy above, before and all around the eyrie I live in.

The riot of autumn’s color is not far off.

Then the trees will be bare.

Twigs, branches, limbs and trunks—gray and black will surround the house. Some nights, silhouetted, they flail in the wind like wild skeletons dancing in the dark.

The Fall Equinox blindsided me. The chill beauty of the first fall dawn gave me no comfort. The night wrapped in wool blankets, nested amongst malleable pillows provided no fresh start. This year has only gotten worse.

I was so young when my father died. One tiny blood vessel in a body of thousands of moving parts failed. I remember vividly looking at him in his coffin. His hands worked, his eyes, his mind…99.9%…

There are 206 bones in most human bodies. One bit of one vertebra can stop the entire machine if it malfunctions.

My little machine of books and people and formulae…99% can work flawlessly.

Everything is great.

It is a pathology to focus on the 1% when 99% functions. But that is my nature. Perhaps many natures work like that.

I will start a new journal tomorrow morning. The current journal begun in March is just too full of pain and madness. Perhaps a new book will reset the continual dysfunction.

Do I miss you? The world about me is a near perfect place. I am the luckiest person in the world. I wouldn’t trade places with the richest or most popular or most beautiful creature I know.

Do I miss you? Midst the perfection flowing all about and around and through you are the eddy that impedes and threatens to stop the river.

Do I miss you? No. It has been too long. An old chapter that’s ended lingered too long. A pathology.

Am I missing something? Yes. Dreadfully.

Comfort Reading and Solanders

I mentioned a few weeks ago I’ve been rereading the biblio-mysteries by Elizabeth Daly. They are very cozy bookish works. She published her first one when she was 60! According to Murderess Ink, she was Agatha Christie’s favorite writer. She needs to be rediscovered. Unfortunately, some of her writing is politically incorrect. In the current culture—which doesn’t seem to understand the concept of historical context—she would likely be canceled.

I just finished Somewhere in the House.

Somewhere in the House

It was so brittle that chunks of cover broke off even though I was very careful with it.

It came in with one of the waves of vintage mysteries we have been absorbing over the last month.

I don’t read paperbacks often anymore. But I took this little stack home so I could continue my sojourn to New York City and environs in the years around World War Two.

In the last weeks, I’ve read six or so. I will often reach for Elizabeth in the dark when something internal or external awakens me in the wee hours. 20 or 30 pages usually puts me at peace so I can return to unconsciousness.

Somewhere in the House revolves around solanders. Perhaps in the 40s, book safes were often called solanders. I first read this book when I was a very young bookseller. I recall the solanders vividly.

I now have a small collection of vintage book safes. This gem came in this week.

Vintage Book Safe

I wonder what the owner hid in it. Or was it just purchased as a bookish curiosity—a tourist novelty perhaps in Paris.

Paris…I so want to travel again.

Perhaps my starting a new journal can change the tide. I recall as a youngster (and even not so young) feeling I could influence events by thought or action or talisman. Would that be considered a metaphysical conceit?

So far, the new journal—a few days old now—hasn’t changed the external world. Riots continue every night. Intolerance abounds. The Plague guides nearly every aspect of our lives.

Friendship and Philosophy

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing last Friday night was no surprise. She had battled dread diseases for many, many years. She had a wondrous run. She changed the world.

I was reminded of this book I acquired a couple years ago.

Ginsburg & Safire Note

It has been three years since I bought the first phase of the William Safire collection. We have not processed a single volume. This is partly because I’ve been waiting for our Collector’s Corner on our website feature to be finished.

It still needs tweaking, but it is beginning to work.

It is a feature designed for specialty collectors and booksellers and institutions.

Here’s an amateur description of what we are trying to do with it.

We have over 2.5 millions books and media on shelves here at the warehouse in Frederick, Maryland. I can’t tell you how many thousands of cookbooks we have. Nearly all would be of no interest to any specialist. But how can we make the ones that may be of interest findable?

The Collector’s Corner.

If you put in “cook book” in the Keyword search you should get about 250 results. There are some unusual books in there, and there will be many more to come. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to load our less recent unusual cookbooks. We are working on that. Also, if you put in “cook books” you will currently only get 4 results. We are working on that too.

We get a lot of books that you likely don’t know exist. Search results show: “None online. None World Cat.”

Eventually all those books will be findable in the Collector’s Corner, although they may be unfindable in the sea of cookbooks and other subjects using our main searches. Eventually…

Safire… OMG it was so much fun to go through that gorgeous mansion. The walls were lined with photos and memorabilia signed by famous people he interacted with. We bought the books that were consigned to the basement. In my opinion, they were wonderful. I paid a lot for them. I really need to get started on getting them cataloged so you can browse.

The second phase was Mr. Safire’s office/library upstairs. There were a lot of cool books lining those walls. There were a lot of signed books I don’t think anyone would care about. Dan Quayle anyone…? Crickets.

Still, I bid a lot on Phase 2. But to my shock, I was outbid! There were some gems I really wanted.

The H G Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, for example. It was signed for Safire by Neil Armstrong! I had to buy it from the guy that bought it from the guys that outbid me.

Then there is this legal memoir by Antonin Scalia.

Scalia & Safire Book

He signed it to the Safires after a dinner at their Chevy Chase mansion in 2005. The Scalia’s were joined by the Ginsburg’s at the meal. This book and Justice Ginsburg’s thank-you card tell a bit of a story. It is a kind of love story. For despite all their ideological differences, Ruth and Antonin were very close friends.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the presence of those three very different couples.

Likely I would not have understood a great deal.

Kennedy once said about a dinner where there were a large number of Nobel Prize winners present:

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

I no longer talk about certain things with many friends. I haven’t for over a decade now. It became divisive. Painful. Sometimes the anger was palpable. I’ve recently lost an old friend who can “no longer look at me” because of my “perceived” views. That person clearly doesn’t know my heart—just the label that he has attached to me. Or is it a target?

Beside family and books, my recently deceased buddy John Adams believed in R. O. D.

Nothing could shake those loyalties. No matter how bad the Baltimore baseball team has been in recent years, he had a blind loyalty.

But we could joke and banter about anything. Anything. We just knew to laugh it off.

This important book I can hold in my hands whenever I wish reminds me that love can conquer all. Odd couples abound in this world. Those who can’t share life with those who have a different calling have a short circuit, a defect.

Life is just too short. Then, like my buddy John, one of you is gone.


There are so many stories that come into the book temple.

Holding old books is a connection to the past.

Larry brought in this collection of crumbling law books. Though dampness is the greatest destroyer of books, dry heat can also damage books over time. The Elizabeth Daly paperback above likely baked in a hot attic or in a sun-drenched room and became brittle; its pages yellowed and fragile.

Crumbling Law

“You said you wanted leather-bound books.”

I picked one up and powdery decomposing calf leather soiled my hands.

“Not if they are in pieces.”

This law library likely spent much of the last century in an old family home’s attic.

Still, I had to go through them. I’ve learned to look at every book—at least externally. You never know what you will find. Treasure sometimes. An evocative story other times.

Many of these books had a lawyer’s name attached to the spines on thin leather labels.

Glassie Books

Glassie. Who was he? Googling brought some results. Then amongst the law books and other dusty attic books, I found this book.

Glassie Pages

It brought the man back to life. At one time he was a young man at Johns Hopkins. He was a poet. I’ve run into a number of lawyers who were amateur poets in their spare. Like booksellers, many lawyers are readers who yearn to be writers.

His friends wrote and printed this book in his honor. It is both by and about good old Glassie who died—in his 50s—rather young.

What can we do with these crumbling artifacts? Their only value, their only chance for survival, would be for decorative purposes. It would take a great deal of effort to put enough oil or vaseline on these books to make them not…filthy. Those that are in pieces—there’s nothing to be done.

Leather Pieces

Once these books were warm, shiny and bright. Leather law books elicit permanence and gravitas. Once these rode upon an accomplished attorney’s bookcases—likely oak, perhaps with leaded glass fronts.

Now they are dust.

Glassie’s ghost must look down with a bit of sadness. But they have at their end touched my life. And if you’re reading this, perhaps you will consider Glassie—Good Old Glassie and think about time.

COVID and Recycling

I hope the darkest days are behind us.

The last 6 months have changed everyone’s lives.

For me, I have spent more time at home than I can ever recall. There just aren’t any places to go to. Many are still closed. Some unattainable. Others just not inviting any more.

For some reason, I bought a package of 5 dozen eggs at Costco. Was it June? May? It made sense at the time. Plus, they were cheap. Under $1 a dozen if I recall.

They’re getting kind of old and are taking up a lot of space in the fridge. I throw away almost nothing in my life. At work and at home, I try to find a way to keep as much out of the landfills as possible.

So, I’ve been cooking up eggs 4 or 5 at a time for Merry and Pippin in the last week or so. I mix them into their dry food. The dogs seem to enjoy it very much. The eggshells go out in the gardens.

The gardens… I’ve gardened more in the last 6 months than I can recall ever doing. The new beds are looking good. I’ve planted and transplanted dozens and dozens of plants. I brought tons of stones up the mountain and built rock borders.

Spending so much time at home has gotten me to try to clear things out.

I wore five or six pairs of old cargo shorts this summer. There are memories in them. Trips and soccer coaching and book projects… But they were worn. The pockets had holes in them. I’ve always got something pointed in my pockets. If I donated them, they’d just be throw away.

There are some unpaved trails around my mountain home. I can get my truck or ATV to otherwise in accessible places via them. There has been an invasion in recent years of a non-native plant. Japanese Stilt Grass has been carpeting many bare areas not occupied by the swaths of ferns up there. I whip the stuff down often. The idea came to me to use worthless cotton and woolen rags as mulch. I can then spread wood chips atop the cloth and hopefully the grass can’t sprout through. I have a lot of scrap towels I use for dog bedding. Eventually they become frayed or chewed and can longer be washed.

So, I laid these things upon the path. It seemed a good use. They will decompose eventually. My once bright yellow golf shorts which faded and had unremovable wine stains will keep down a bit of the weeds—which for some reason the deer won’t eat—though they eat just about everything else that is green.

Old Shorts

Is that a bit obsessive? Pathologic?

If so it is another gentle madness, I can’t feel too much guilt about it.

Time is slipping away.

The work doesn’t change.

There are more books landing on our docks than ever.

We are in the planning stages of developing more warehouse space out here.

We just refinanced the building and the attached vacant 7 acres.


I need something to keep me busy. I’m getting bored.

No place to go.

No one to see.

I have energy. Ambition. A driving need to do…”something.”

My legs are working fine again. As far as I know, there is no threat to the body by any flaw, great or small.

I want to rescue more and more books and…beautiful things.

Who knows, maybe there will be a change in my life as well?

But for the near future I see carts. Carts and carts of books.

Carts and Carts

By Sunday evening, I will have created a little fleet of carts laden with books for the folks here to put on the internet so millions of eyes can potentially see them.

Perhaps to acquire one or 5 or a hundred and give those books…one more chance.

This little gem came in this week.


Well, it is not so little when you unfold it. It may be 15 feet long. The table it is resting on is 8 feet long.


The binding style is a called “accordion” or leporello.

I’m pretty sure the images are handpainted. Perhaps there are wood-block prints beneath the colors.

Over a century ago, some Asian hand did this work.



12 Comments on Article

  1. Rick Banning commented on

    Chuck, that JFK quote about Nobel prize recipients at the White House was great. I remember thinking years ago that it’s really special being in the company of people smarter and more knowledgeable than one’s self. Like having an excellent teacher. Rick

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you reading and commenting Rick.
      Ongoing education is something we can all get from books!

  2. Patrick Roan commented on

    Hi Chuck: The name Henry Glassie nudged me with recognition: the noted scholar of material culture and vernacular architecture, Henry Glassie, now a professor emeritus at Indiana University. Must be related. Glassie was an important name in museum studies for years, with his focus on the stories of everyday objects and deep analysis of folk artists and their work. And he wrote many books. One of his most famous is “Passing the Time in Ballymenone,” about a small community in Ireland. A reviewer wrote this about the book: “It is a book about passing the time–the time to allow friendships to grow, the time to allow love to mature, the time to live at the centre of life.” He thought about time too.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I found him in the online search as well. Likely a relation.
      It was a scout that did the house call.
      My guess is was perhaps an old Glassie family home near DC.
      Thank you for reading and writing !

  3. Askold Ihor Skalsky commented on

    What a column. Magnificent. Thanks.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you old friend!
      That is high praise indeed!


  4. Jon Boles commented on

    Thanks for doing what you do and enriching the lives and libraries of many a bibliophile. Always a great thing when I’m reading on a given topic, spot a reference to a title, and find that same title on the site or in store. Nothing quite like a WonderBook envelope in the mailbox to brighten these times!

    Additionally, I wanted to let you know that on any and every time I have had to write in regarding an order, whether cancelling an item or making a request, Kelly has always responded politely and timely, and never with a hint of impatience or frustration. Kindness such as this makes me return!

    Best to you and yours!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you for reading and writing.
      It is great to hear things like this!
      Please let us know if we ever disappoint.

  5. Denise Horner commented on

    Yesterday we fled the pandemic into the forest for a 3.5 mile hike under the canopy of white oaks and black oaks and red oaks. Gaia loves diversity. It is her source of resilience. Grievance is the stiltgrass of the heart. It crowds out gratitude.

    Rafiki to Simba: “Look closer…. He lives in you.”

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is beautiful Denise.
      It really felt good to read.
      Thank you reading and thank you for reminding me where reality resides.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so cool Ron!
      Book discoveries are still happening everywhere!
      Thank you for reading and writing! Chuck

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