Trapped in Paradise

Book Ends

Tuesday, 11/10/20

Heading east on I-70 toward Baltimore in a Wonder Book Ford Transit van.

I wonder if I’ll venture into that city any time soon?

Nope. Can’t think of a single reason that outweighs the risks.

There is a great bookshop there. Kelmscott. But they’re appointment only now.

And the Evergreen House.

And Gertrude’s—a gorgeous “Chesapeake cuisine” restaurant adjacent to the Art Museum.


Clif is driving. We’re heading to the town of Fulton, Maryland. I’ve never heard of it. It feels like it will be a small house call we may actually walk away from.

I was forwarded an email from our general Wonder Book address:

Dear Sirs/Mesdames, with apologies if I’ve already corresponded a few months ago. With the pandemic, I’m not sure whom I’ve written to.

Would you be interested to buy a large collection of leather-bound great books? These were my Dad’s who passed away last year. There are two sets of books including The Franklin Library: “100 Greatest Books of All Time” (published 1974-1982) and The Easton Press: “Great Books of the 20th Century,” as well as several miscellaneous items. 737 books in total, all leather bound, gold embossed, in good condition, the Franklin set all with gold leaf.

These are sitting in boxes in my basement. I’d like to sell them as a group. I can send you a list if you like.

Would you like to come take a look?

We exchanged emails. Franklin Library and Easton Press don’t excite me anymore. So many people subscribed via the mail in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Now those buyers are reaching a certain age. The books are flooding the market. At least the common ones.

Moby Dick is an attractive book.

Moby Dick

Full leather. Gorgeous binding decorations. Illustrated.

I think it was free—a premium—if you subscribed to some Easton collection. We sometimes have 20 or 30 of the Great Whale.

The “Greatests…” are common. We even tried them as Books by the Foot for a while. They don’t sell well.

Also, the Franklin Library issued many of the “classics” 3 ways. Some are full leather. Some 1/4 leather (i.e. just the spines have leather wrapped around them.) The front and back boards are cloth. Many are completely “cloth”—or cloth-like.

Can you tell the difference?

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Easton Press is always full leather, in my experience. They are crafted quite well. The Moby Dick is a stellar Easton Press publication.

There are exceptions. Some Easton and Franklins are collectible. Some are true first editions. Some are signed.

Last weekend, I came across William Safire’s own copy of his Easton Press Full Disclosure. It is a first edition and signed by him. He also affixed his personal leather and gilt “book plate” to the front pastedown.

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So, we are coming to Fulton. I don’t see a town. Just some old houses at a crossroads and lots of McMansion development in the fields all around—fields that used to be farms.

I’m not excited as we pulled up to a large farmhouse with a vast wraparound porch. It looked initially “old”, but on close inspection, it was very new. It was built in an early 20th century style.

“That’s neat.”

It was carved into an acre or two of woodland. Other homes shared the woods. Their style’s were new McMansions.

I had asked for more info and images. The images showed what appeared to be “basement” damage on many of the books. Spotting and degrading of the lettering.

If they are all damaged, we might walk away.

We might get kicked out if I make an offer that is too low in the son’s opinion.

It is a beautiful day. 73 degrees. Sunny. Most of the trees are bare now. But there are still plenty which bear golden or red-orange and even burnt-red decorations.

Heading back.

The son said no to my offer, and I was relieved that we didn’t have to lug the things from the basement.

I got the impression the father had been a doctor. There was stuff spread on the basement floor like stethoscopes…

Maybe they were selling stuff on eBay. The wife was taking pictures of things on the floor.

There was a mountain of leather in moving boxes in the far corner of the basement.

Moving Boxes

I opened the top box and lifted the first book out. The second came along with it. There were stuck together. Old moisture adhesion. I gingerly pulled them apart. They made a soft “craaack” as I did.

‘I don’t want these,’ I told myself.

Still, I went through the motions.

“I have a list,” the son said, holding out a sheaf of printout paper.

“Oh, no thanks.”

I opened some more boxes.

I rubbed the fuzzies with my thumb. Sometimes the mold is fresh, on the surface only, and comes off with a soft cloth rubbing. Exposed is shiny pristine leather below.

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These—most of them anyway—would not “clean up.”

The mold had invaded the leather.

There were a few collectibles.

The Vonnegut was signed.

Vonnegut Signature

But it would not clean up.

‘I wonder how many copies of this he signed? There’s no limitation stated,’ I thought. ‘1500? 2500? Who knows? I’ve heard various stories. Top authors like Vonnegut and Updike would be set up at a resort. The publisher would send an assistant with a stack of blank pages. That assistant would just keep putting blank sheets (and rum cocktails?) in front of the author to autograph until…there was no more paper.’

Some of the autographed Franklins and Eastons are impossible to sell. Jonathan Lash? Gail Godwin? …Anyone?

The common titles could not be sold online. “Slightly musty with mold spots…” would not pass the “smell test” on Amazon.

Books by the Foot? Never. Those clients are incredibly picky.

I could send them to the stores—but do I want that look in my stores?

“Maybe if we vigorously rubbed with polish…”

I put a little spit on my thumb and pushed down hard.


Did I ever think in the old days I’d offer $10 a box for Franklins and Eastons?

I didn’t.

I offered 20.

He shook his head solemnly.

“I don’t think so.”

“No problem. I understand. Nice day for a ride,” I replied, upbeat. VERY upbeat.

We hustled out of there, happy to be in the sun. Now the Wonder van is heading west on I-70.

It IS a beautiful day. I’m glad we went. A little vacation.

Pretty expensive mini-vacation. 2 hours for Clif and me. 2 hours fuel and wear on the van.

But gas is cheap in Maryland. Costco was $1.89 a gallon last week. Up in Pennsylvania it is about $2.70 last I saw.

I got some writing done. You’re reading it.

And I chatted with Clif. He wants some time off coming up. Hunting season. Maryland is so overloaded with deer you can take all the does you want.

“Maybe I’ll get 6 or 7. Brother and sister want one each. I want to stock up on food in case COVID shuts things down again in the winter.”

Strange times…

It is a beautiful day…


I was reading news stories on my iPhone while in bed.

The doctor Biden is considering as the incoming COVID chief is talking about a complete 4-6 week shutdown in January.

He is sure that will stop the Plague.

Will that bring the Spring Terror back?

It poured down rain all last night. Wind and gusts and swathes of water pounding on my roof and windows.

I went home early with grand plans of indoor projects and writing this week’s story.

I was so stressed out I curled up in bed with some soup and Elizabeth Daly. It was warm and comforting.

EVERYTHING is stressing me out now. Big things. Little things.

We met about staff complaints yesterday. THEY are stressed out. Warehouse and stores. We will try to fix things we are able to fix.

We have very strict rules and have not relaxed them.

I notice the grocery stores no longer wipe down carts for you. I guess they expect you to have the initiative to wipe down the cart you choose with the towels and sanitizer they provide?

I’m riding to the Gaithersburg store with Clif. I-270 is crowded at 11 am. There’s a little rain. The week has been so nice weather-wise. Even with the rain yesterday, it was in the 70s. I took a walk every day around the warehouse when the sun was shining.

To clear my head.

And dream about the new 100,000 square foot warehouse building project I signed on for last week.

I need a project to keep me busy. I am so bored. Nothing to do.

Certainly no place to go.

This morning we are going to Gaithersburg to see about making more space around the counter. That store is now 45 years old. It is made up of many little rooms. The sales area—or foyer—is limited in size by 4 walls.

We got there, and I engaged my “Spatializing Specialist” sub-specialty. Short of tearing out rows of bookcases, things are limited by physics there. But following the science, I found we could get more than 6 feet between customers and employees if…

I swept all the toys and crap and cutsies off the counter. EVERYTHING goes. I now had my blank canvas to work with.

I asked Clif to put swatches of duct tape on the floor and counter 6 feet apart.

“Let’s take the little glass fronted refrigerator off the far end of the counter. (We offer retro glass sodas for sale from it.)

Clif is extremely strong. He lifted the entire thing loaded with bottles of soft drinks onto the floor. The bottles rattled and fell inside, but nothing broke.

There is much more counter space where it had rested now.

“Let’s set it on the floor in the center of the counter as a divider. “

That left some unfortunate gaps in the clear plastic “sneeze shields” hanging from the ceiling to separate customers in front of the counter from employees behind.

“Where are your plastic bags?”

(All the stores have supplies of various sized bags to put things in for display and protection…we call it “Bag and Hang.”)

The largest size they had was about 18×24.”

I experimented taping them together and then taping them to existing plastic shields.

I am now a Draper.

Ugly, jury-rigged…but a working template for more permanent distancing and separation solutions to come.

Business is excellent—mail order, Books by the Foot, the three brick and mortar stores.

But news outlets and COVID numbers and it getting dark at 4:30 pm has everyone even more squirrelly than before.

Tuesday evening, Governor Hogan announced the reinstatement of some restrictions. The counties are thinking of going beyond his edicts.

Will we be going through the Terrors again…?

Can the government keep printing money to pay every person and every business off?

And so many people are still being paid to stay home. Especially around Washington.


The “numbers” are up, we are constantly being told.

Well, the testing is up as well—astronomically.

I know a LOT of people who have been tested. A LOT.

A friend called earlier this week.

“I was reading your blog about not knowing anyone with COVID. You do now. Me.”

His wife had some mild symptoms and went and got tested. Positive. He went. No real symptoms. Positive.

They live out in the Midwest.

At our meeting about staff concerns, I checked on Maryland testing. “220 sites.” Plus constant “pop up” testing sites. Many or most are “no appointment, no cost, no referral…” You just show up and drive through.

Now Dr. Fauci is saying we won’t be in a pandemic much longer.

Really?! America’s Doctor is telling us this on November 12th? He didn’t have this new philosophy say…October 31st?



America’s hero doctor…

I hope I don’t get the Plague. I mask up. I take mega-vitamins with zinc and Vitamin D and…

Mixed messages… I am so mixed…

This big old “slice of life” appeared.

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I was “called” to it while walking by a cart of old stuff.

Maybe my Book Muse guided my eyes.

It’s kind of big and ugly.

I set it aside for Madeline to look into.

Her searches found:


Nothing on the title.

Nothing on the photographer.

It could be because they only made 5 of them. I’m guessing for the family that owned the ranch 70 some years ago.

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A couple colleagues commented on the sad condition of the scratched and abraded cover image.

I replied: “I wonder what the other 4 in creation in look like.”

Snarkily implying—if they even exist.

What’ll I do with it?

I’ll save it.

Maybe I’ll have a big yard sale someday.

Unless I get suddenly committed for Covinsanity.

If it had been donated to…whoever is still taking book donations…I wager the #5 Bighorn I have here would have been tossed.


The Mission.

I gotta keep reminding myself.

This sprawling mess is bigger than me.

Bigger than the big (and little) problems that constantly nag.

DAMN…I’d love to see Aida from the 5th row center at the Met again…

“Remember when we went? They had horses and an elephant in the grand march on stage.”

“Remember. You are here for a reason.”

Am I hearing voices? I didn’t think those words.

I feel so trapped. Stressed from being trapped. Trapped in paradise, but still trapped.

Friday the 13th.

The week has been bad enough.

What will happen today?

I put on a fire last night when I got home. I’m letting it die today. It is supposed to be sunny and in the 60s today. Perhaps I’ll set another one tonight.

A friend who reads these stories sent this link:

Book eye candy…

The rest of the Van Engelen flower bulbs came this week. You’re supposed to get them unboxed right away. I don’t know how many thousands there are on the garage floor.


I’ll start planting soon. I have some new spots planned—after all, I put in 4 or 5 or 6 new stone-lined COVID gardens since spring. I also tried to mark some fresh territory where I hadn’t planted in previous years.

I’ll be out on my hands and knees for hours in the next months—hacking away at the rocky soil with my handheld adze.

The potted plants have all been moved inside. Not everything is set up yet where it belongs for the winter. The biggest pots are still in the garage. They weigh up to 70 pounds, and I just haven’t been in the mood for more heavy lifting since I got them inside.

I realize now I am pot-bound. Am I a potted plant hoarder? Maybe I’ve just gone a little “potty.” I brought in a bunch of wooden wine crates as plant stands.

Potted Plants

Not very stylish. But they are temporary and will have to do.

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There are many more than these three groups in different parts of the house.

Sherlock Holmes would get bored in between cases. He would escape that boredom with a Seven Percent Solution. I too too often use stimulants to escape the ennui at the end of the day. Not THAT kind or anything else illegal.

Nowadays ennui is mixed with disbelief, fear, anger, a feeling of being trapped, a feeling of being lied to by many in government and media.

I’m no Sherlock, but I can certainly deduce it is raining when I step outside and water is pouring from the skies.

Some deductions are so obvious—as plain as the nose on your face.

“Watson, I have deduced we are being lied to!”

“Excellent!” he replies.

“Elementary,” is my rejoinder.

I was walking around the warehouse yesterday afternoon in a state of melancholy ennui. I passed some books loaded with brightly colored dust jackets.

These were carts going to Ernest. Books without ISBNs and other “DNA.”*

* Do Not Add.

When he finds things on these carts he believes I should look at, he puts them on “Chuck” carts. He is very good at what he does. But sometimes…

The books on one “his” carts arrested me.

Several dozen uniformly bound young adult books were clustered on a couple shelves. The dust jackets were brilliant—sumptuous—to this bookseller’s eye.

They were different than the many series books we come across like Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, Judy Bolton…

Who is Janet Lambert?

I must have seen some of these before.

But so many at once!

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And so many perfect!

I opened a few. Trade editions with prices on the dust jacket flaps.

First editions, most of them—maybe all.

The artwork just screamed mid century.

These had likely been collected by a girl maturing in the 1950s and 60s. She certainly took good care of them.

I had a friend in junior high school who avidly waited for every new Alistair MacLean adventure novel. He would be to the Waldens on the day it was published. I never got into them. My tastes were more toward Tolkien and modern lit.

I envisioned a girl awaiting each new Janet Lambert publication. I looked at a couple more DNA carts. There were more Lamberts and more kids and young adult books in jackets.

Wings from the Wind

Tasha Tudor—she has held up well.

This is A.A. Milne.

Prince Rabbit and the Prices Who Could Not Laugh

I don’t recall seeing it before. Certainly not in this condition. First edition 1966. Perfect jacket.

I quarantined all the DNA carts on the floor. I put “Chuck” slips on them.

I didn’t want some obscure gems overlooked or just sent for the computer to evaluate.

These were for my eyes!

I also wanted to be a last part of this girl’s life. Was she cute? Would I have had a childhood crush on her? I’m guessing she was (or is) a decade or so older than I.

I’ll take my time on these. Savor them over the weekend.


So I stumbled on a new “case”! It will take the ennui away for a bit.

New Case

The Case of the Once Young Girl’s Book Collection.

I won’t need the “needle” just now.

At home, the cast iron wood rings are filled right at the door. Two more rings are loaded on the covered porch at the lower level.

Wood Rings

The drive is carpeted with fallen leaves—golden brown. They lie so thick—it is a plush carpet.

Leafy Driveway

I drive over them, and they are ground to soil. I’ll clear off the drive—blowing the fallen into the gardens and woods to become plants again.

Warning! Poem below:


I can step to my shelves
and slide off a planet
a star, garden or palace
There is love
And thick volumes of war
I can fly to the clouds
or find a hole to hell
I can shake off these mortal coils
Or don the robes of royals
I can live forever
Or die by inches
Escape the madness
in another man’s madness
I am a bird
A fox or a river rat
Invisible to all but myself
I see the demon in my portrait

Though no one else is home
I converse with wise friends
Or laugh aloud atop barstools
No longer alone

* * *

There are universes on these shelves
More shelves, more universes
Infinity overflows onto the floor
A cosmos in my library
Another in the den
All Creation stacked next to my bed
I am a very wealthy man
I can go places no one else can
Between the covers
From the printed word
through my eyes
to the unlimited mind behind

6 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    The sudden swerve to “Aida” is what makes these blogs so appealing. Here you are a guy hoping to reignite his enthusiasm for life by building a gigantic new warehouse, but one who also writes poems, appreciates the dustjackets on YA fiction for girls, composes poetry and orders way too many plants. You may suffer from ennui brought on by pandemic fatigue–like most of us– but at least it’s not acedia, in the medieval sense of spiritual despair or the feeling that life is meaningless and not worth bothering about. You’ll see “Aida” again.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That gives me hope Michael.
      It is a coping mechanism to pile on burdens so there’s always too much to do.

      In truth I’ve done this my whole “adult” life.
      It is different now because geography and activity are so circumscribed.

      I hope things are on the mend there.

      John Rhodes’ mysteries are selling all over the world…

      Great to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time!

  2. Cheryl Watterson commented on

    Love your blog. It always makes my day 😊 happy.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is wonderful to hear Cheryl!
      I really appreciate your taking the time to write.

  3. Patrick Roan commented on

    Hi Chuck: That ranching book intrigued me. There is some stuff via Google on Greenough and Tschirgi families: ranching families near Wyola in Big Horn County in Montana. A photo by famous FSA photographer Marion Wolcott in 1941 at LC of Turk Greenough. In the photo is Sally Rand, burlesque dancer who was apparently married to Greenough. There is also a family history of the Tschirgi family. Their “spread” was notable in the area. Wonder if the Montana Historical Society would be interested? (I’m a librarian so mysteries like this pique my interest.) Cheers, Patrick Roan

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Patrick,
      Great info!
      We will keep it safe until more institutions reopen.
      I Really appreciate your reading the story and following up by writing.
      Thank you so much!

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