No Food or Drink Allowed in My Athenaeum

Delta Winds cover 2000Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


No Food or Drink Allowed in My Athenaeum

Paul Mayrhofer

In my home, I cherish many places. My bedroom is for rest and fantasies of the night; my bathroom, to cleanse and refresh my exercised body; my garage, to repair and create all that is mechanical; and my kitchen, to prepare gastronomic delights. However, there is a door to a room with an aging page, printed in color with large, bold type. Proudly, I have taped this sign to the upper third of the door, which states, "No food or drink allowed in here!" This is the one room, in which I take the most pride, my athenaeum, where I keep my books. Some call it a library. Others have reduced it to a shelf or two, and the indulgent devote an entire room to the very purpose of storing books. Nevertheless, in my mind, this place is my university, teacher and mentor, philosopher and interpreter, sage and friend. Silent icons of history, science, and dreams are the books I own.

Thirty-five years ago, or more, when I was young, I started gathering books. I started with storybooks having pictures and type so large that one could view them from across the room. Growing older, I collected classics of fairy tales, and young reader titles, such as The Boxcar Children, The Outsiders, and The Hardy Boys. All of these children's stories helped me learn to read. These shelves accommodate The Encyclopedia of Britannica, twenty three to a set; The Books Of Knowledge, twenty plus in all; and Popular Mechanics: Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia, to repair all that may break, and the yearbooks from all my high schools. The walls, eleven feet wide and seven feet tall, are filled with books on gardening and herbs, health and fitness, finance and business, philosophy and religion, occultism and mysticism. There are more reference books to serve me. I am constantly using thesauri and dictionaries for rhyming and slang. The guides for erotica, grammar, bad spelling, structure, scenes, and limericks help me to write in muse. Technical reference for my computer take a shelf or two, WordPerfect, Dos6, AutoCAD, and OS/2, ProComm Plus, Visual Basic3, dBase IV, Corel Draw to name a few. How can I leave out the Modem Reference, Quicken, Framework, Where is Carmen San Diego, Bryce2, NASCAR Racing, and clip art volumes? Hardware and software manuals are constantly in use. Moreover, what of the fiction? Those titles seem countless in number, yet they include authors like John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Jackie Collins, Steven King, James Mitchener, Michael Crichton, Nelson De Mille, and Robert Ludlum standing out in groups clustered shoulder to shoulder. Binders of photographs from over the years contain pictures I have taken that tell my life story. There is classic art of Monte and Da Vinci. More currently collected is the art of Escher and Klimt, and my modern day favorites are Goldsworty and Archer. Included among these is a volume of drawings I have done. Articles from magazines an issue or two, school texts of physics, math, geometry, floriculture, and propagation I have kept to review.

On some of the shelves, I keep items that are not books or reference, but memorabilia. Atop one dusty shelf rests a weathered leather top hat, given by a friend. There are other memories that I have accumulated; a small bottle containing parts of a colorful green beetle, bottle caps, a short string of jute, and what looked like half of a peanut, that I collected from cleaning my weed. There is a stack of hard drives for my computer, which my cousin, Kurt, had given me. Binders of books on tape like of Napoleon Hill's classic Think and Grow Rich, How to Listen Powerfully, Do It Now!, and other take a small space on the shelf. Occupying a shelf or two include a packing tape dispenser, laundry soap, cleansers, polishes, batteries and other Amway products that I store for sale. These oddities are remnants of a business that has fallen by the wayside to the more important necessities of family and job.

Everyday I spend hours in the place that I have come to call "my athenaeum," my refuge from the sometimes tedious grind of life. Daily, the search for a particular book to benefit the task at hand leads me through the pressures of the world. So many familiar faces of titles standing ready for my call, spine out for saving space, I know them all. Here, represented on my shelves are books in all shapes, thick and thin, short and tall, wide and narrow. I can vouch for most of these volumes, but I borrowed some many years before. Their owners are widespread across this county, the USA, reminders of countless moves. From time to time, friends ask, "Do you have this book?" Thinking of the title in question, I will say, "I know, just let me look." As if a photographic memory had come to life, my eyes scan their faces one by one for clues that tell me this is the one.

Each edition has a fingerprint all of its own, the binding, soft or hard, leather or paper. Type styles can be range from narrow to bold, serif or sans serif, script and italic. A classic may have a Black Letter font. Rainbows of color also help identify their character, blues and grays, reds and greens, and every color in between. To exclude gradients or imaginative art would leave vast gaps in my descriptions. Each publisher has a distinctive logo; its unique combination of icons, and initials make each an exclusive publisher's imprint. I know many of these by heart, because for the past six years, I have worked in a bookstore. Picturesque covers representing their contents within help sell these works of authors. Bold graphic images depicting the story in one captivating picture convince the prospective buyer to pick it up, and entice them to spend their hard-earned money.

In contrast to all the others books on my shelf, shiny, glossy surfaces depict newly acquired books. In contrast, the bleached, sun-faded editions quietly remain next to their cousins, aunts, and uncles. These relatives, I refer to as "Used books," or older editions, as some call them, though I prefer the term "Old friends." Regrettably, I lack the time to clean the years of dust from these shelves of books. I am not sure how this grunge may draw the life from the delicate page edges. My only hope is that their spirit may endure such negligence on my part. Yet, there is a thrill as I occasionally stumble upon a book that I had forgotten I had, while searching for another. Yes, it is the reminder of a forgotten book, tightly squeezed between larger ones that halts my progress. Carefully I pull the top of its spine toward me, to get a better grip and remove it from the shelf. The snap or cracking sound as I break the aged sticky bond from it's neighbors, tells me that it has been a very long time since I held it in my hands. Like the slight squeezing a bottle of fragrant perfume, the book permeates the air with the scent of time, seasoned paper, and binding aromas. My mind drifts bringing memories long forgotten of the last time I used this once familiar friend.

Many years have passed since my early childhood times. These books have traveled thousands of miles, as I have moved across the United States and back. I take pride in this collection which continues to grow year by year, and somehow week by week a new one appears. So if you find yourself standing in the presence of my archive, be sure that one thing is clear. There is no food or drink allowed in here!