Ah, the Smell of Books

Old Books by David Flores
Old Books by David Flores

Most bookophiles love that moment when they crack open a book, new or old, and take the first sniff. When I worked as an editorial assistant at Appalachian Heritage magazine, one of my favorite tasks was unwrapping–and immediately smelling–the review copies of books we received. So what is it that makes books smell so magical? Here’s a great read on the science behind the scent. The author notes that one scientist described the smell of old books as a “combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness,” which I think is both accurate and appropriately romantic.

The nose is an important part of memory. Smells can take you back to specific moments or places like little else can. (I suppose I should write a post about using such sensory material to bring scenes alive when writing, but I’ll leave that to another day.) Much of my personal nostalgia for the smell of books comes from opening ancient tomes on relatives’ bookshelves or sniffing a newly purchased book at a bookstore. What will become of this cultural nostalgia when the newest generation downloads their next read on an ereader? Will the affinity for paper and glue fade from memory as did the comforting clicks of the rotary phone?

I have faith that our love of holding paper in hand will not diminish anytime soon, but for those who want to share the smell or even just have a moment to themselves, check out these cool products. I know what I’ll be adding to my wish list!




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