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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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 20/12/2011 18:50

    Haha….you are so funny! Book sniffer! I love you, Fi! I admit that I’m not a book smeller, but I recently discovered the smell of bookstores. I never paid attention before you told me about it and other book bloggers told me about how they loved the smell of bookstores.

    I’m sharing this with my book group simply because this post is awesome. 🙂

  2. 20/12/2011 18:55

    Oh, the smell of bookshops! My local Waterstones has a Costa coffee shop in it and it’s also right on the entrance to the town centre. It’s like quicksand. Books AND coffee… it’s like an invisible sting is tied to the end of my nose and drags me in and before I know it, that very useful thing I was going to buy has gone out the window in favour of a book or two.

  3. 20/12/2011 19:43

    I do book sniff! There are books that have a great smell, and books that have an off-putting smell (but I try to read the book anyway and not judge on the basis of the smell).

    In fact, yesterday in the book store, a man ran his thumb through a book (Shantaram) and smelled it. He then told his partner what he thought of it. I thought that was really lovely.

    One Dutch publisher of children’s books when I was young, always had books with a great smell – I mean, I still remember about it, isn’t that amazing!

    • 20/12/2011 21:03

      I remember being in the supermarket looking at the book section and a little kid bent down and picked up a Harry Potter book (book 5) and sniffed it. His mother said “he’s picked that up from his grandfather” and something about it being strange. I couldn’t help but smile thinking that book-sniffing was being passed from one generation to the next. I’m the only person I know that really sniffs books. Everyone else thinks I’m either rather eccentric or just plain old weird.

      • 20/12/2011 21:22

        Maybe we’re all weird but you’re not alone, at least. 🙂

  4. 20/12/2011 20:50

    This blog post makes me SO happy. Thanks for sharing. (Glad I’m not alone) haha.

    • 20/12/2011 21:05

      No one is ever alone! Where there’s one weird person with a weird habit, there’s another… hehe.

  5. 22/12/2011 00:32

    I have a bad sense of smell and am terrible at describing what things smell like. But my favorite is when books smell like my old library — it’s very similar to all old library books but somehow slightly more like home. I wish I could build my entire collection from books that were culled from my old library, and that would be the most comforting book collection ever.

    • 24/12/2011 14:03

      My smell isn’t so good either especially when it comes to the kitchen… I’ve never really understood how professional wine tasters can smell all those things in wine when all I can smell is strong alcohol.

      My local library used to smell great… until they revamped it completely, painted it white, put in funky chairs and filled up the majority of the first floor with a noisy café and a kid’s play area.

  6. 24/12/2011 07:40

    I am a habitual book-sniffer too! That is one of the reasons I love roaming around book stores.

    Can you remember a particular book for it’s particular smell?

    There was this book of Italian fairytale. It had this horrible smell of ink. It gave me a headache. The smell was so strong that I actually had to put the book down on a table and read it from afar (Any ‘sane’ person would have just stopped reading it I suppose but when are readers ever sane?).

    • 24/12/2011 14:08

      Oh yuck. My copy of Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen smelt of ink and the front cover felt really inky too. I can’t say I enjoyed that smell. However… I am a bit addicted to smelling glossy leaflets. It isn’t a nice smell but it’s addictive. Probably shouldn’t sniff them too much in that case…

  7. paulette permalink
    28/01/2013 05:36

    I looooooooooovethe smell of all books…I sniff them all day every day….I also tear the pages and have bags of torn papers every where….my family thinks I am so weird….I go to the store every other day to get free magazines and phone books….

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