Two of the recent book stories have been a bit introspective. Thanksgiving and Christmas are times for stopping awhile and assessing. Inserting myself too much or too often seems self indulgent, perhaps a little vain. And the last thing I want to be is tedious.
For my part, I’ll be grateful when the holiday season is over.
Now it is New Year. An artificial date to end one period and begin another. Some humans need frameworks. Beginnings, middles and ends. A “year” gives some of us those things.
If I look around my home, my office and the sprawling book warehouse, not much has changed noticeably in 2018. But a lot WAS done.
At least at work.
Home has become mostly a place I go to at night, sleep, awaken and leave. This year I’ve put in some more rock-walled terraced garden beds. I’ve cut and split a lot of firewood. In the last few days, I planted a few hundred daffodils. If I waited too much longer, they wouldn’t grow. Over the years, I’ve put in thousands of daffodils. A daffodil bulb is an investment in spring…many springs. They require no care. They return every spring. They often multiply. It is something to look forward to. Now I kinda wish I’d planted more this year. There are still many of the same boxes of books waiting to be shelved on floors around the house. I just haven’t been inspired to do it. So, right now the house and grounds don’t look much different than they did a year ago.
I didn’t walk much in the woods this year. Rain was part of that. So many, many days were rainy. In 2018, I noticed my driveway was seldom dry. It became a kind of morning game. Will the driveway be dry today? The ground was so often wet or muddy—even atop this mountain where the drainage is exceptional. My old F150 4WD pickup actually got stuck for a few weeks in the summer. I drove it over the lower trail to get bags of mulch to the far side of the house. I’ve driven over there hundreds of times. Contractors have hauled stone and wood over that path many times. I just parked it and waited for the ground to dry out enough to get some traction and escape. It was odd to look out the front windows and see the truck stranded down there in the woods below me.
I did walk in the woods a bit this week. I was loading some big chunks of wood into the bed of the truck. It was about halfway down the paved drive. A big tree had blown over. I love it when deadfalls are close to the road. Easy firewood is good firewood. Looking down the slope, I saw that a huge Tulip poplar had snapped at about 40 feet up. Tulip poplars can be enormous. They are one of the largest native trees in the eastern forests. They can be up to 6 feet in diameter. Their gray-brown trunks can rise a couple hundred feet into the air. They often have no lateral branches for much of their height. Just huge symmetrical gently tapering trunks. Their canopy is far above. Their blooms are fairly large orange and green flowers but are seldom seen because they are so far away. Only when you find fallen blossoms or petals on the ground are you aware of what magical beauty is taking place far you above—a sky high flower garden for the entertainment of the birds and insects.
The huge tree had broken. The canopy lay on the forest floor.
It must have been invaded by fungi. All that remained was the massive trunk to about 40 feet tall. I’ve learned that arborists call this a “totem”. That makes sense. I guess there is a name for everything. It’s always fun to learn something new. Some color and shapes atop the totem caught my eye even from that distance. The treetop had an odd broad creamy white patch where it had broken. That seemed to be fungal rot. I scrambled across the logging ditch and down the boulder strewn slope a couple hundred yards to investigate…and to escape loading more of the 60-80 pound chunks awhile. When I got to the foot of the dead tree, I looked up. There was a monster atop it!
I decided to keep walking down the slope. I found a tree that had been pecked by pileated woodpeckers. These massive prehistoric looking birds pound distinctive rectangles into trees. They somehow know when a tree has been invaded by insects, and they somehow know where to drill into the bark to find the larvae they feed on. This little tree had survived both the insect and avian assaults. Its wounds, however, left many windows in its trunk.
You always see beautiful and interesting things on walks in the woods. I wonder why I didn’t spend more time out there in 2018?
I continued down the slope until I hit the old logging road and then circled back to the drive. Then back up to the truck to load more of next year’s firewood.
Tonight after I planted the last of the daffodils, I went into the little barn and split the last of those big chunks of wood. The smell of the freshly split oak is delightful. The grain is very beautiful as well. Hidden beauty. The wood will need to dry—”season”—before I can burn it. It’s an investment in next winter’s warmth.
It is December 28. 4 am. It is raining hard—again. It is pitch black outside the windows. There are no streetlights up here. The thousands of twinkling lights that I know are down in the valley are obscured by rain and fog. The lights of the moon and the stars above are blanketed by clouds.
2018’s record rainfall total is being added to. The forecast calls for more rain all day and then again Monday, New Year’s Eve.
2018 didn’t have many major projects. No major disasters. Some big plans were formulated. We will see if anything comes of those in 2019.
Much of what happened was recorded in the preceding 52 Friday book stories of 2018 here (or were there 53?)
It was a very busy year. We hired a lot of people. We added more data entry and sorting stations. The shipping area was expanded. All this to try to keep up with all books the pouring in.
I was also able to whittle away at a lot of old pallets of books. Boxes of books wrapped in plastic atop wooden pallets and labeled with my name on long blue slips of paper taped to the front and back this keeps others away. Often the source of the books or other contents are indicated by signs under the plastic as well. Many of these are years old and very dusty.
Book dust. It goes with the job. I must thrive on it.
I even managed to go through a lot of the “Gach horde” pallets. John Gach was a legendary bookseller and “naturalgenie.” He specialized in rare and collectible books on Psychology and Medicine. That story will be written some day. It is so big and complex it is difficult for me to wrap my head around it right now. Sometime it will “click,” I’m sure. Much of his book business was organized and cataloged. But there were thousands of boxes of books from collections he had acquired and simply had not gotten to. We packed everything. Even boxes that were stuck to the floors by dampness. These random books are often problematic. Many are in languages other than English. A lot of it is in old German “shrift.” Germany, Austria … were hot beds of early Psychology and Psychiatry research. Much of the material is very specialized and “niche-y.” It is hard to sell. It is very hard (and expensive) to catalog properly. That’s part of the reason so much of it has been held back so long. Another reason is that some materials are put aside here until we learn more, until our software and training have evolved enough, until we have the right people we can trust to add the books correctly to our online data base, until we can afford to risk the investment of putting these difficult and problematic and very, very obscure books and publications on to the “payroll.” If they are not cataloged correctly, they are even more unlikely to sell. They will be “Lost in Cyberspace.”
At this time, I feel I’m the only one in the company who can properly triage those and many other oddball pallets. I know much of the material on them is not in online selling platform databases. There are no “comps” (comparable prices) to use to help evaluate them. I just have to use my experience (and the mental “dartboard” in my mind) to put prices on many, many books. If I don’t do these myself, many of the books will come back to me anyway. I might as well save the extra handling.
What would have happened to all these books had we not gotten them? Had we had not had the space to store them until their time was ripe (hopefully)?
2018 has been a year of vastly increased book rescue here. I’m proud of that.
We added about 10 trailers to the docks we aren’t using. These make the building bigger. Each of these trailers is full of books.
Our Books By the Foot division has expanded into many more styles, lines and formats. These are almost always books that readers or collectors would not want. Or they are books we simply have too many copies of. There we offer children’s books by the foot, by the box, by the Gaylord, by the container load, by the truckload.
On a smaller scale, we have given away thousands and thousands of children’s books. Teachers and volunteers are allowed to visit and pick out books for their classrooms or to give to students or client families.
Last week we had a couple prison librarians come in and pick out much needed books for their captive audiences.
We partnered with a company that takes not only our scrap paper to recycle into pulp—to make new paper—but they also take all our scrap plastic. We also sort bulk books and DVDs and CDs for them. They only pay pennies a piece, but that’s better than destroying them. Where they sell them—I don’t know. I assume overseas. More power to them!
What would happen to all these books had we not thought outside the box; had we not come up with creative ways to get unsaleable books one more short; one more new home?
“You get lemons; make lemonade,” my mom used to say.
So, almost nothing from the vast quantities of stuff that comes into this huge building goes to the landfill. Our little dumpster gets emptied every two weeks. We should probably change that to every 2 months.
It is pouring rain now. Dawn is now somewhere out to the east, but all I can see out my window is a gray-blue curtain beyond the nearest bare trees.
It’s time to get up and roll down the mountain to work.
…and to work on this story. It is as dreary as weather so far. I’ll try to pick up the mood.
So 2018 was very productive for finding ways to give more books one more shot at continued existence.
One fun innovation has been the rescue of very old books from antiquarian booksellers. Many old leather and cloth books look great. (Some just look “acceptable.”)
I reached out to antiquarian booksellers in the ABAA and elsewhere quite a while ago. I offered to buy their unsaleable old cloth and leather bound books.
“We can use your pre 1940 cloth and any old leather. If you have forgotten authors, valueless reprints, obsolete histories or other worthless non-fiction; if you have broken sets or damaged bindings that are just collecting dust we can make them go away and send you a check upon receipt. I can pay approximately…”
At first, the notion was treated with skepticism. I had few takers. Then I came up with the concept of paying for their FedEx pickups as well.
“Just pack your books for shipping. Send us the weight of each box (bathroom scale is fine.) We will schedule FedEx to come swoop them away at a time that is convenient to you.”
This concept gained traction in 2018. I think maybe word of mouth recommendations from successful sellers helped. Now there are almost always 2, 5, 20 boxes on our dock waiting to be unpacked and totaled up.
It is a win-win-win program. We need old cloth and leather—mostly for our Books By the Foot clients. The booksellers are able to offload dead stock and make some money. The “books” win too. They are cleaned up and shipped all over. Their cost is not insignificant. It is unlikely they will be disposed of lightly.
Plus they are beautiful—even if they are in extreme distress. Books like these were at one time hopeless cases. Now they are desirable—at least to us.
Now we’ve some people actually want these unwanted books—mostly professional interior designers.
Here are couple lots that got unpacked and staged this week.
What would have happened to these had we not sought them out?
We decided if there was no market for some cool books, we would make one!
Plus some are interesting enough that we market them to readers and collectors.
One man’s trash is Wonder Book’s treasure…
A few booksellers now seek these types of books out for us. Books that in the past would have been left behind at estate calls or unbid for at auction now have some value. A few even drive here with van loads every few months. These unwanted books are worth hauling.
I’m proud of that.
We’ve even trained some of the charities and institutional fundraising book sales to start putting these aside for us. Most of these organizations have little use for “old” books. They are often “disposed” of. If we pay enough for the labor of putting them aside for us, it makes financial sense to them.
And, on rare occasions, something sweet comes in with worn old masses. A “sleeper.”
Do I have any resolutions?
I’ll travel more.
I’ll write more.
I’ll walk in the woods, the cities, the parks…more.
Who knows? Maybe I will even shelve all those books on the floors of my home and office.
I have little doubt there will be more books in 2019. I hope so. It would be boring to me if things slowed down. Stagnated.
A couple days ago, a company that clears out houses for hoarders and other kinds of estates contacted me. They brought up 300 boxes yesterday. Some good stuff. Some junk. The hoarder had bought lots of remaindered books from Borders and other bookstores. He just stored them in boxes. Sometimes multiple copies of the same “new” books. Many of the boxes have Borders or Daedalus printed upon them. They say they have ten storage units full of boxes of books from that estate and others. 40,000 boxes. BOXES. I hope so. We’ve been running a little low recently. It is a seasonal thing.
Long ago we made a call to a deceased hoarder’s estate in Arlington Virigina. He had been a colonel in the US Army. In several rooms, he had piles of books floor to ceiling sprawling from corners toward the middle of the floors. In his garage were a couple thousand Barnes and Noble plastic bags. He would buy bargain books and never remove them from the bag. He would just toss the filled bag atop the others in the garage. It was a kind of hobby for him, I guess. Well, maybe more of a mania. He had also built bookcases on wheels. He did this so multiple bookcases could be “stacked”—rolled up against to one another for spatial efficiency. It was pretty bizarre. Onto almost all the shelved books, he had affixed an American flag decal to the base of the spine. We still come across those every once in a while. I wish I had taken pictures of that collection. Purely for scientific biblio-medical reasons. Biblio-pathology—a textbook in the making.
I can just hope and pray for other voids to be filled.
I do know how very lucky I am.
I get to play with books every day. And it pays pretty well. Usually…
One business mantra I’ve developed over the years has been constant improvement. “If something is working at 90%, try to push it to 92% or 94%. That could apply to the “business of life” as well.
Some time in 2018, I came up with a phrase; a slogan if you will:
“I go thousands of places every day. I am a bookseller.”
I thought that would make a good t-shirt.
Maybe better would be something like:
“I am a book lover. I go thousands of places every year.”
Well, something like that. Help me tweak the phrase, and we will send you a couple t-shirts when we get them made up.
Until then, we do have some other cool t-shirts available. Here are some of the styles we currently have on hand. Contact us if you’d like to purchase any. (I’m not trying to “sell” t-shirts. I doubt we break even on them. I’m just putting it out there.)
2018 is ending on a wet, cold and dreary note. 2019 has got to be drier. History is on the side of that. The previous annual rainfall record that was broken occurred 130 years ago.
I hope 2019 will sunnier and full of great real and bookish events.
As Bilbo Baggins said as he was boarding the elven ship in the Grey Havens to leave Middle Earth for the West:
“I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.”
I hope you will come along.
Happy New Year!
May all your 2019 books be wondrous, wonderful, full of wonder, and “wonder books.”