Writers Got Ants in Their Shakers

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Writers Got Ants in Their Shakers

Writers who use the shakers give me the shakes.

I’m reading a submitted manuscript to see whether there’s something worthy of publishing, when suddenly I get the urge to brush all those little black ants off each page.

Somebody has filled a salt shaker with commas and apostrophes and sprinkled them liberally throughout the piece…seemingly at random. The paragraphs are filled to the brim with improper tense and punctuation usage of their’s & theres’ and it’s and its’ and “the best city’s in the world…mens’ room…”I don’t do window’s”…package of Oreo’s…and on and on and on and on.

We are having an ant infestation in the kitchen at home, and it’s fun to watch the little critters energetically going about their infesting. And, yes, they do look like apostrophes and commas out of control.

Liz is an editor, too, and she finds the same plague in many documents. She passed the shaker analogy along to me, by the way.

I find it difficult to teach the commanists and the apostrophiles how to make their work grammatical and readable with just a few simple rules. Folks who have come far enough in life to write manuscripts often feel they know all the rules and do not require instruction. Or they just don’t get it. Or they are used to depending on the editors to clean up their mess.

Guess that has become a major codicil in the imaginary manual of editing these days—just correct the manuscript for the writer and get on with judging whether the piece has merit beyond the ants.

And don’t get me started on social media usage. The electronic ants are beyond recall. Even the brightest, most educated and otherwise wise “friends” get it wrong every few minutes, day after day.

Am I tilting at windmills? Should I just take E.O. Wilson’s advice and, instead of exterminating the ants in the kitchen, learn to observe and appreciate them?

Nah. Shakers got to shake, editors got to edit

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.




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Ruby’s Yacht Carries Me from Then to Now

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Ruby’s Yacht Carries Me from Then to Now

I stop by the potter’s shed to watch him thump his glistening, malleable clay, shaping it to his whim, perhaps not listening closely to what it speaks to him.

“Go gently, brother, respect who I was and make me into what I will be,” the clay pleads, shape-shifting slowly under the potter’s hand.

The potter works on, kneading and pounding and spinning the red clay mass until it begins to imitate an object he can recognize.

“I was once like you,” the clay continues. “I lived, loved, died, eventually turned to dust. And here I am, returned to your shop, filled with the juice of life, prepared to accept my fate as your next project.”

The potter pauses, barely sensing these utterances, then begins the process of finalizing this new life, re-birthing the mixture of fluid and earth, settling on its appearance and eventual usage, the puppet-master bringing to life a life already awaiting re-emergence.

As the eleventh-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam said, “For I remember stopping by the way To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay: And with its all-obliterated Tongue It murmur’d—’Gently, Brother, gently, pray!’”

Omar, writing his Rubaiyat all those centuries ago, rides with me as I pass through life from dust to eventual dust. At the age of thirteen, I first read his many Rubaiyat—or verses—and never forgot the poetic images and ponderings about the wonder and silliness of life. I refer frequently to his wit and sagacity.

Omar asks the questions that we all ask of life: Why is some pottery misshapen or cracked or unattractive, even when created by the same Maker? Who makes those decisions? Who decides what is lovely and what is ungainly?

Khayyam admits he does not know the answers, and he ultimately decides that nobody else does, either.

His entire philosophy, basically, is, enjoy the moment, eat the chocolate chip cookie now, don’t worry about the before-now or the hereafter. You can make up theologies and beliefs and templates all you want, but it’s basically a conceit or a delusion to think that you know the Answer.

Reading Omar is kind of liberating. He lifts from you the burden of other people’s temporal and temporary ideas and allows you to do the right thing right now. Hug your family, lend a hand to someone in pain, stay out of other people’s belief systems and dogmas, look to your immediate circumstances for peace and kindness.

As I sail the Rubaiyat—or Ruby’s Yacht—through life, I can still find shards of peace amid the turmoil, largely because of Omar and Ruby

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.




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The Man Who Lived Happily Never After

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The Man Who Lived Happily Never After

I am inhaling the early-morning sunlit air of the city. All around me, objects of every size and mass reflect the early-morning sunlight back at the sky, back at me. There is glorious light everywhere, and I am the center of the glorious light.


Suddenly, the swat team of the negative brain arises to bring me up short and assure me that not all is beautiful sunlight and glorious reflection. The internal swat team swats at my sunny thoughts and reminds me that all that light brings sunburns and blisters and drought and thirst.


I shake my head and watch the graceful people of the sidewalk trot their aerobics, walk their pets, whisper into their phones, strut their stuff, show off their running shoes. They are lovely and mysterious, these graceful people of the sidewalk. I smile.


The swat team of the negative brain smirks and reminds me that some of these passersby could be looking for recreational pharmaceutical contacts on the street, might be silent victims of abuse, could be thieves seeking their next victims.


I brush away the swatty thoughts and prepare breakfast, enjoying the sensual pleasure of buttering toast, folding eggs and tomatoes and onions into a steamy, tasty amalgamation of nostalgic fragrance. The morning paper awaits my perusal.


Again, the warnings arise. Is all that butter going to kill me? Is leaded ink from the paper seeping into my fingers? Is the gas bill from cooking all these breakfasts going to be insurmountable at end of month? Will I remember that millions of people elsewhere are not able to afford breakfast?


To win this morning’s battle against the swat team, I begin a regimen of distraction and inspiration. To chase away the creepy negatives that abound, I begin my day, setting out to find books and treasures for the shop, sharing stories and harmless lies with other storytellers and liars, exulting in the sheer forward energy it takes to submerge myself into the joyful activities of writing my stories, selling the books, finding unfindable books for people,  jotting down notes for future books and stories and speeches. The swat team disappears into the mind’s dark corner to sulk.


The swat team says, “Let me tell you what a rotten person you…” but I swat the team down, laugh in its presence, ignore and suppress it.


This beautiful day has finally revealed itself unashamedly, and, finally, I, the man who often lives happily never after, get to savor the day, savor the life I lead, cherish the people I love.

But I always keep my swatter handy, just in case

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.




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Stragglers of the Orphanage Open House Day

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Stragglers of the Orphanage Open House Day

The library basement room is filled to overflowing with wandering patrons searching for books that librarians want ousted from their shelving.

Every kind of person you can imagine is here tonight, roaming the aisles, searching for just the right volumes to take home or to auction on Ebay or to re-gift or just to collect but never read, or simply to place on the coffee table to look pretty…or perhaps even to read and cherish.

Here at the book sale, I am wending my way through the throngs, looking for a niche that everybody ignores, a corner bereft of shovers, space hoarders and aggressive acquirers. Ah! The Humor Section. Nobody looks there, so it’s the perfect spot to seek treasure. I am alone in a sea of grabbers.

Wham! Plop! Wham! Plop!

What th- Where is that noise emanating from?

Wham! Plop! Wham! Plop!

I peek around the corner of the next aisle to spy an intense woman who is stooping down to knee level, ignoring titles and subjects and authors and simply methodically grabbing one book at a time, scanning the back cover with a hand-held device, then slamming each book aside loudly and messily to make room for the next scan. Oblivious to others attempting to examine and open each book, she is working hurriedly, unsmiling and avid.

Wham! Plop! Wham! Plop!

I get it. She’s working from a Want-List of books that are sought by the hundreds on the Internet. She’ll use ISBN numbers to fill some boxes, then ship them out of state to humongous used book entities that will sell them at the rate of thousands per day.

Wham! Plop! Wham! Plop!

Most people here are having a grand time. Kids sit on the floor and read, anxious moms grab titles they hope to read in their spare time and other titles they hope their kids will read, cookbook collectors search for their favorite recipes, history buffs search for Churchill and Durant and Ambrose and Herodotus, donors look for beach reads, teens seek vampires and zombies, nerds all have their specialties…

Then there are these two guys who have cordoned off a corner of the room, where they accumulate stack after stack of books and guard them from examination by others. These are out-of-town dealers who are not purchasing these stacks of books. They are simply roping them off so that they can leisurely pick out the few they want to take with them, leaving a jumble of volumes behind. First come, first served.

Now things are thinning out a bit and I can pick up a few more books to read.

Now, as the books disappear, I look at what is left.

I am the only one who spends time in the philosophy section, so I silently converse with the oldies and make my selections.

Then, when most of the assertive customers have left the building, I carefully look for the wonders they missed, the special books with intrinsic value that cannot be detected by tattooed numbers or overly zealous grabbers.

I find them and am pleased.

I eventually leave with my trove, bidding farewell to those straggling books that will never, ever sell, those orphans who are passed over again and again…books that once meant much to someone but now are passe or outmoded or untrendy or battered.

Where will these orphans go now? What will be the final book that no-one will purchase?

When I return at the end of the sale, I will spend some time with these volumes, searching for special traits hidden to the untrained eye. I’ll find something worthwhile about them, mostly because nobody else took the time.

It’s one of my guiltless pleasures, a game I play all by myself, taking a second and third look at these foundlings to see what they have to offer an uncaring world




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Pondering the Pit and Listening to the Cereal

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Pondering the Pit and Listening to the Cereal

It is way back in the 1940′s right now, and I am the I who is living in these times. At the moment, I am communicating with you from here, which is a great distance, timewise. I’m in the 20th Century, you are in the 21st Century.

Interesting how the distance can be bridged in seconds, merely through these recorded words.

Anyhow, just wanted you to know where and when I am coming from.

I’m a kid and I am doing what most pre-television kids do each morning. Breakfast. Breakfast can include things like eggs, cereal, bacon, grits, cream of wheat, oatmeal, toast, biscuits, jelly, butter (oleo margarine), salt, pepper, cane sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, sausage, flapjacks…

But breakfast is also blended with everything and everybody around me. The food is just food without the flavor of family and laughter and mumbling…and stuff you can read on the sides of containers.

While the family swirls around me, I escape into the world of various packages that contain the fixin’s. I get to read about the adventures of Snap, Crackle and Pop who live at Rice Krispies…famous athletes grinning muscularly from the Wheaties box…Hopalong Cassidy looking intense at the end of a loaf of bread…Aunt Jemima smiling from a pancake mix box…Little Miss Sunbeam eternally munching on a slice…frighteningly serious doctors recommending Post Toasties as ruffage…

And then there’s the prune box. Prunes are not very exciting, but they do make a nice treat now and then. And the pits are fascinating, sporting a planetoid texture and totally inedible. But the mystery of the prune goes deeper. Inside each prune pit is a kernel, some kind of secret nut. When you bust open the pit, there’s that extra treat to munch—just like a Cracker Jack prize.

And examining prune kernels is just the beginning. While reading and chewing, I get all kinds of fun out of pondering other breakfast mysteries:  Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Why do Rice Krispies have their own language? How can eggs be so easy to break yet so durable in their long journey to my parents’ kitchen table? What is the difference between jelly and marmalade and preserves and syrup and molasses and honey? How do you get gravy out of coffee grounds? What happens to the pit and the kernel when pitted prunes are produced?  Who decides which is the butter knife and which is the slicing knife?

As I glug my orange juice and break my fast, my metabolism and brain start racing, and I am preparing for a day of school or play—either of which will produce more questions and just a few possible answers.

By the time I’m racing for the bus or the backyard, I am already a scientist, adventurer, athlete, vizier, poet. There is so much to learn about, so much to test, a million would-be solutions to the world’s problems…and I am the one who is going to start addressing them, at least until late morning when I rush to the kitchen or school playground for Kool-Aid or a carbonated drink to get me through till lunchtime.

For the rest of my life, I continue to gaze at all things new in much the same way I gaze at prune pits. What’s inside? What’s behind? What’s the story? What was the journey? What will happen next?

There is always one more thing to examine.

That’s what keeps me going every day to this very day

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.




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Jane O’-Lantern

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Trying to fight the grey day and the grey skies on Monday morning, I drop the humid laundry bags off and race from laundry door to car, hoping to dodge a panhandler or two.

“What do you writhe?” a feminine voice asks loudly behind me in the mottled parking lot.

Dang! I think. Someone’s about to hustle me.

I look over my shoulder as I hurry to make it into the car.

There’s a frizzy-grey-haired street woman of indeterminate age toothy-grinning at me. She repeats whatever it is she said.

“What do you writhe?”

“I can’t understand you,” I say, hoping she’ll go away.

I notice that her toothy grin is actually an every-other-tooth grin, since she’s missing sections of the usual white row. She grins widely again, like a happy, soulful jack-o’-lantern.

“What do you write?”

Now she points to the back of my car, where my self-printed bumper sticker proclaims    O What Fun It Is To Write.

Dang again! I think to myself. I’ve once again made a fool of myself. She wants to know what it is that I write.

I grin back, showing more teeth than her.

“Oh, I write books and stories,” I say.

“Like what?” she grins engagingly. She’s really interested!

“Well,” I stumble. “One of my books is Dad’s Tweed Coat: Small Wisdoms Hidden Comforts Unexpected Joys.”

It’s the most popular of my publications, and now I wish I had a copy with me, to give her.

She grins and glows again, appreciately, and turns to walk away. She’s satisfied with the answer.

Some days I writhe, some days I write. Seems all the same to me.

I drive on to work, thinking about her wonderful smile and wondering why all those grey people walking the grey sidewalks this morning left their smiles at home in sad sock drawers

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.



Podcasts: http://jimreedbooks.com/podcast/

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Tap Dancing on Shag Carpeting

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Tap Dancing on Shag Carpeting

“You have heard the sound of two hands clapping, but have you heard the sound of three hands clapping?”

Thoughts like this slither into my mind during the short periods between customers at the bookstore.

“She was aged to imperfection.”

You know, inexplicable thoughts like this—the kinds of thoughts that seem important at the time but ultimately are tossed into the napkin-note sticky-note file for later contemplation.

“You can only observe one-tenth of an iceberg lettuce salad.”

Where did that one come from?

The front door chimes and I am lifted from my navel contemplation. I arise from behind the counter and smile to the customer, “Good morning! How can I help you today?”

A woman of indeterminate age frowns, holds up a shiny book by two fingers, as if it is contaminated and ready for recycling. “I want to return this book for a refund,” she announces.

My policy is ironclad. I always refund, no questions asked. Or at least no questions required. But just for future reference, I say, “OK. Is there anything wrong with the book?”

She sneers, looks into the air—not at me—and says, “I just don’t like the way it ended. I want my money back.”

I am at a loss for words. I look for words, but they seem to have fallen out of my head and rolled under something, out of sight.

“Er, sorry,” I sputter. I determine that this particular customer has made up her immutable mind and is well beyond literary conversation or conversion. I also determine that she will probably never return. I think, too, that she has read very few books in her life and has no idea how a real bookstore operates. I am happy to refund her money in hopes that she will soon disappear and be replaced by appreciative browsers.

She stuffs the refund in her copious purse and grumbles to herself all the way to the door, her experiment with reading over and done with.

I re-shelve the book, return to my storely duties and my lone thoughts.

“She is as pure as the driven sludge.”

Where did that thought come from?

I wonder whether there are other would-be customers like her. Maybe, to paraphrase my Brother, Tim, she is part of a That Customer franchise, people who haunt old bookstores with unlikely demands, then dematerialize.

“I’m looking for a book by GO-eeth,” one customer says. It takes a while to decipher Goethe from his request. I gladly provide him with Goethe.

“I’m looking for poem,” a gruff character states. When I lead him to the poetry section, he stares blankly, arms limp, as if I’ve invited him to tap dance on shag carpeting.

“No, I’m looking for POEM,” he repeats. It takes some time to figure out that he is searching for pornography, or PORN, as it is called these days. Dang, we are fresh out or porn, I say to myself.

I gently let him down and he leaves—again, someone who will never return.

Some folks seem to be searching for Manifest Density. If there is no such thing, there ought to be.

Me, I’m just drifting with my thoughts on a normal day at the least normal bookstore you’ll ever visit, the most enjoyable bookstore you will ever visit, a bookstore stripped bare of unsavory endings and GO-eeth and porn

© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.



Podcasts: http://jimreedbooks.com/podcast/

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Glowing Dreams of a Tom Mix Radioman

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Glowing Dreams of a Tom Mix Radioman 

 Squeak. Rustle. Clunk!

It’s the sound of our mail box being opened, stuffed, then securely closed.

Today, I am first to run to the front door and retrieve the daily mail, just in case my special order has arrived.

This is 65 years ago, when we still know the name of the letter carrier, his family, his route and his schedule. He is right on time.

I run to the living room sofa and spread the trove. The newest issue of Life Magazine. A utility bill. A letter from Aunt Annabelle. And a small package addressed to Master Jim Reed!

This is it. Without waiting for permission, I carefully dissect the wrapper, emulating my mother’s care in saving for re-use any and all paper and cardboard materials. I pull out a personal greeting from Tom Mix, the cowboy star I listen to each week on the radio. I won’t know for decades that Tom Mix actually dies a year before I am born…but his franchise lives on.

Lo and behold, here is what I’ve been waiting for. A Tom Mix white plastic belt with red cowboy figures printed thereon. And it is just my size. Well, it is just the size of any small boy who owns it.

I am excited beyond all measure. Not just because I now own the belt. I am excited because this Tom Mix belt is supposed to glow in the dark! Following instructions, I expose the belt to sunlight, then rush to the nearest closet—the only daytime dark place in the house.

I pull the door tight, imprisoning myself among mothballs and suitcases and shoes and clothing. I dare to open my eyes. And there, lighting up the darkness, is my genuine Tom Mix glow-in-the-dark white plastic belt. It seems magical. I am not at all sure that I have ever seen anything that glows in the dark without an electrical plug or a battery or a hand crank.

I look around to see just how much illumination this  belt is capable of. Sure enough, I can see ghostly images of my hands, my shirt, my pants, my bare knees, and all the mysterious closeted objects I can never see in the dark.

Later, after showing off my latest mail-order acquisition to playmates and siblings and mother, after wearing the belt secured by cloth loops about the waist of my Jungle Jim khaki shorts, I have completed the chores and commitments of the day and am once again alone—my favorite place to be. Supper dispensed with, bath behind me, fresh pajamas donned, I climb up to lie abed on the top bunk of the bedroom and spend a little daydream time before slumbering.

Brother Ronny is already snoring in the bottom bunk. Flashlight and comic books are nearby. The sounds of the nightly neighborhood critters filter in through the metal window screens. Nearby houses are already dark. One bright planet, Venus, peers in through the west-facing window.

And there, within my grasp, is the Tom Mix belt. I wonder what Tom Mix would do with a glowing belt out on the cowboy prairie of the Wild West. Since cowboys don’t have flashlights back then, he probably uses the belt to locate firewood on a dark and stormy night. His horse, Tony, is settled in. He holds the belt aloft to find wooden matches. He lights kindling, feeds the flames with more wood, and beds down for the night, using his saddle for a pillow, hoping it doesn’t rain.

The Tom Mix glow-in-the-dark white plastic belt has served its purpose for the night.

Here I am, also bedded down, hugging my new belt, gazing at bedclothes faintly illuminated.

I close my eyes, drift into cowhand dreams, knowing that this has been a really great day, knowing that there may not be that many really great days to come. Hoping that there will be more wonderful days than I can possibly imagine


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.



Podcasts: http://jimreedbooks.com/podcast/

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The Day and a Half Late Newspaper This-Just-In Guy Gets Through the Morning

Listen to Jim’s podcast: http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/thedayandahalflatenewspaper.mp3

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The Day and a Half Late Newspaper This-Just-In Guy Gets Through the Morning

I am behind the Times and learning to love it.

I’ll explain.

Reading the latest newspaper is my lifelong idea of what a learned and informed person does each day. Just sitting quietly alone at home or in a diner, scanning the pulpy textured pages, wiping ink stains onto my sleeve, searching for signs of hope or discovery, looking for a laugh or a tear to rev me up for the day…that’s a routine I would not want to abandon.

Way back, when Birmingham’s daily paper self-destructed and became a jumble of unvetted unedited unproofed words shaken and thrown onto shrunken pages that appear only periodically, my days were disorienting and somewhat content-less. So, I turned to the only still-daily publication I could mostly trust—the New York Times. It arrives each day at my home, usually locate-able in the shrubbery and often dry and crisp, ready to be opened.

To my amazement, often the Times carries more relevant news about Alabama than the News does. Unlike the News, no anonymous snarky comments are allowed or respected, and the Times’ internal editors are its greatest critics and proofreaders. It’s fun to see a paper actively trying to be better each day. It is comforting to know there are actually well-trained and experienced reporters and op-ed writers working away.

But, as with any wonderful change of habit, there are adjustments to be made.

The Times has to wend its way from New York to Birmingham, so through whatever elaborate process that entails, I get the news at least a day late. If this is Tuesday, that means I am reading Sunday evening’s and yesterday morning’s news. I am used to that, but wait!

Unlike the tradition of early delivery  in the wee hours of the morning, the Times carrier arrives as late as 9 a.m., which means I am already on the road to work…so I have to retrieve yesterday’s paper to read during the day, leaving this morning’s paper to be examined tomorrow.

Are you following me?

Basically, I am reading day-and-a-half-late-or-later news, way after it occurs. This leaves me out of step with everybody else. And actually, it is kind of nice.

Getting the news late means that I am basically a historian reviewing the world with some distance and perspective. The Times becomes a kind of daily weekly magazine.

After listening to folks wringing their hands about events over which they have no control, I get to quietly review what really happened through a lens that includes everything I’ve heard that has happened since. How can I explain this?

Since I know all the subsequent happenings  I can read the first reportage with a little more sagacity and perspective. It’s a kind of time-travel. The Times is a Times Capsule, freezing things in place long after they  happen, prepared to be examined by the likes of me. If I time-travel back two days and read the news, I can surprise those around me by predicting what will happen day after tomorrow. Uh, just take my word for it.

Anyhow, thank goodness for the Times. Its delivery to my home helps me maintain a tradition of calmly reviewing the day, after I’ve heard nothing but randomly excitable people repeating what they just read on Twitter or Facebook, what they have just been instructed to think by Fox and Rush.

I need a calming anchor in my day, and this is it


© Jim Reed 2015 A.D.



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August 24 to August 29, 2015


1 cartoon book

2 old medical texts

1 large collection of short stories

1 sociology title


Beatrix Potter. 1 title

Fante. 1 title

1 novel



Several Zen titles

1 graphic design book

1 Egyptian wall chart

3 religious titles

Freud. 1 title

Jung. 1 title

Pirsig. 2 titles

Marx. 1 title

Thomas Paine. 1 title

Gaiman. 1 title

John Irving. 1 title

Cormac McCarthy. THE ROAD

2 sports trading cards



1 inspirational title


Two kids’ books


1 sci-fi magazine

1 mystery novel

1 commemorative Lincoln paperweight

1 old children’s book

1 collection of old kids’ stories

4 old Sports Illustrated Magazines

Several toy soldiers



1 novel



10 CD’s

4 LPs

1 old Life Magazine

1 large stack of old technical books & manuals

A number of world history books

Moorcock. 2 titles


Blanding, Don. Several titles

Thorne. 1 novel

Andrew Glaze. 1 title

Craughwell. Buck STOPS HERE



Pears. 2 titles


2 old novels

Several Birmingham postcards


1 sci-fi title

1 natural science title

Howell Raines. 3 copies of MY SOUL IS RESTED

3 kids’ books


Anthony Burgess. 3 titles

1 aircraft manual

1 Nazi history

Several novels

A whole lot of CD recordings

12 classical CDs

1 Percy Sledge LP

A stack of mysteries

Coupla dozen LPs

2 new age titles

1 old religious tract


2 modern novels

Du Maurier. REBECCA

Horace. 1 title

Lucretius. 1 title

CANTERBURY (19th-century leatherbound)



Linkletter. FLYING HIGH

Edgar Allan Poe. 2 titles


Several sheet music items

Steinbeck. 1 title

LES MISERABLES leatherbound


Bradbury. DANDELION WINE 2 copies


Saint-Exupery. LITTLE PRINCE

2 Patterns






Fleming. LIVE AND LET DIE (Folio Society)

Life Magazine. 11-5-71

Sheet Music for ALWAYS By Irving Berlin

2 old smoking pipes

1 old black lunch pail

1 old Dick and Jane reader

Look Magazine issue opening of DisneyWorld

ASTERIX comics

Shakespeare. POEMS

Upfield. 1 mystery

1 mystery novel

One flight book

1 Inspector Morse VHS

Rowling. HARRY POTTER #6

Ross MacDonald. 4 titles

John D. MacDonald. 3 titles

2 LPs

1 signed bio

Several civil rights titles

Reed. DAD’S TWEED COAT (signed)

Stephen King. DUMA KEY

Walker Percy. 1 title

2 mainstream novels