Posted in College, Life, Thoughts

Smelling Books

A new book smells great. An old book smells even better. – Ray Bradbury

If it’s true that smells are connected to memory (as I suppose it is; scientists couldn’t be wrong, could they?), then it seems like there’s a loose connection in my head somewhere. There are very few smells I even notice, much less associate with certain things. I can smell rain sometimes, and sometimes I’ll notice food cooking, but that’s about it. Except for books.

The other day, I came across a post by about the scent of old books, which got me thinking about the subject. I do love the smell of books.

Brand new books smell spiffy and clean and like sharp edges. (Except for my brand new psychology book this year, which smells icky and musty for some reason.) It’s comparable to that new car smell (which I can notice if I try, on the rare occasions I’m in a new car…): it’s nice, but you don’t expect it to last long, and it usually doesn’t.

Middle age books don’t have much of a smell. I guess they’ve just absorbed the scents of the world in which they reside, so there’s not much that stands out. Still, if you put your nose right up to the pages, there’s sometimes a hint of paper left.

Then there are old books, which are the best. They smell like time. There’s that sharp mustiness that makes your nose wrinkle when it’s too strong, the dust hiding deep in the pages that makes you want to sneeze, the oils from the fingers that have worn them out, the dirt they’ve inevitably encountered, cozy chairs and couches… In short, they smell like old books.

Once in awhile, when I’ve been away from libraries for some time, I’ll walk into one, take a deep breath, and realize I’d forgotten how good they smell. Especially the library at my college, where there are a lot of old books that (sadly) don’t get moved much. I’ve grown to love the place. I thought it a bit small when I first came, but now that I work in it and know it better, I’ve discovered that it contains many treasures, they’re just a bit neglected. So I try to give them some love on occasion. And enjoy the smells.

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2 thoughts on “Smelling Books

  1. I can still remember the smell of my second grade reader. The Friendly Village. Once in a while I’ll open a book with that smell and I’m seven again, enjoying all the adventures of Alice and Jerry. This is a beautiful piece. Have a good week.

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