Old Book 1

There are dozens of flavors of old book, but the one that leaps to mind is the mixture of musty, dust and the aftereffects of moisture, combined with the decomposition of paper and ink, and depending on the vintage, a bit of skin-warmed leather.

The first thing I do when I pick up an old book from a shelf or a pile is to open it, dip my nose in, and inhale deeply. Only after this is accomplished to I back off and actually read the words on the page. It’s probably not a surprise to learn that there are books that I’ve purchased or brought home only because of that first breath of their history. In addition to evoking images of a more restful past, I also feel hopeful when I catch this smell – I have to believe that books will always be with us.

I once saw a Tufte lecture where, in the middle of the day, he walked his first edition, 400-year-old copy of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, around the room. It killed me not to have been allowed to smell it, and for better or worse, that’s what I remember most about that day.

Inspired by envirogrrl and nc.

About Samantha

Samantha Soma is an erstwhile aromatherapist, collects vintage and modern perfumes, and is in love with the sense of smell. She lives in the Northwest, which means that books, coffee, wine, beer, and humidity play large roles in her personal experience.
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3 Responses to Old Book 1

  1. nc says:

    You need my job. All I do is sniff books.🙂

  2. Noel says:

    I remember that point in the lecture, and if recall serves me well, it was punctuated by his stating the age and duration of the book: “Now try doing THAT with your little web site.”

    He wasn’t referring to scent, but he might as well be. The question, then, seems to be: in an age of nearly electronic everything, what does the future smell like?

    Silly question, I know. I’m off to grab a cuppa joe. That’s what my immediate future smells like.

  3. sotd says:

    nc, I know! Sounds like heaven, actually. Can you tell how a book was kept, or where it came from, by scent? I’ll have to make the pilgrimmage out there to see for myself (mixed metaphor left intentionally).

    Noel, great question – definitely an on deck post. I think that Anousheh Ansari might have one answer of the millions that will come – I would so love to have the experience to smell “space” as she did!

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