The woman in this photo is sniffing every book in the Museum of Modern Art collection in New York. Books all have their different smells. Some of them are quite nice and some of them aren’t pleasant at all. She has noted down in a large book what each book smells like, going from sweet tea, perfume, armpit and dog poop.
Like this woman, who seems to have the most marvellous job in the world, I am a habitual book-sniffer. It is an essential part of enjoying a book, to be able to breath in that heavenly deep smell of paper and ink. The book I am reading now (Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson) smells strangely of almonds. I don’t know if this is the book, or the previous owner as it is second hand, but it smelly lovely and nutty.
I prefer woody smells over ink. They smell of the forest, of something natural and living. Of course, now the tree is a book it is no longer living in that sense, but in another way the book is always a living thing. The ebook in that sense wins a point for environmentalism, but in all other ways detracts from what a book is for me.
I like clean musky smells of older books too. The kinds that have been well loved and looked after by their previous owners that they still retain a hint of their original scent despite age. I do not enjoy the smell of mildew or the wreak of a heavy smoker.
I think I am going to be inspired by this lady to add a ‘book smell’ column to my spreadsheet for next year, although I doubt my books will have quite the range of different scents as old library books will have.
Who else shares this bookish habit, and what is your favourite smell? Can you remember a particular book for it’s particular smell?
My copy of Olaudah Equiano which is a Modern Library edition – not only had lovely thick, slightly textured paper – but also had the most divine woody smell which I remember well since reading it.