Stories from a life in progress.

Old book smell

The other day I wrote about how cheap notebooks are my tool of choice for journaling and idle scribbling, where other people delight in high-quality notebooks and stationery, and still others skip handwriting altogether in favor of typing.  The simple task of writing engenders endless human variations in use and preference.

Another set of preferences I'm thinking about tonight is attitudes toward books.  I've had conversations with other hard-core readers in which people waxed poetic about all the ways they enjoy books, above and beyond absorbing the words:  the smell, the heft, the touch of paper, the details of typeface and layout and cover design.  Every part of the experience enhances the whole.

I appreciate what these folks say and I'm glad that they enjoy their books so holistically.  Nonetheless, I don't relate personally.  When I open a book, I very quickly stop noticing anything about the book at all.  I even stop noticing myself -- I'll get stiff from sitting in weird positions, wherever I happened to wash up when I started reading.  The only thing that matters to me is what the book says.  Nothing else registers.  I'm every bit as happy reading on my Kindle or my iPad as I am from a printed book, because all of them give me the thing I really want:  the words, words, words.

The books I've been pulling off my shelves are generally newish, but I've turned up one exception.  A copy of Homer's Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald.  (I surprised myself by finding it available on Amazon, though maybe I should have had more faith.)  I believe this qualifies as an old book, on the basis of its nicely-ripened library smell.  I don't actually notice that any of the other books smell like anything at all, but this one is different.  Even I can tell that it smells like Book when I pick it up.

Possibly some bookophiles would swoon at the piquant scent of this volume.  To me it smells dusty and a little acrid.  Curious at what makes book-people happy when they inhale their books, I flipped it open at random, stuck my nose in between the pages and took a deep breath.  I pulled my nose right back out from between the pages and sneezed.

Ah well.  Not for me the heady joys of a good ripe book, apparently.  If any of my kind readers wants a copy of Homer's Odyssey which smells of Book, mine is available.  If I want to revisit this poetic saga, I'll download the text.  To date, neither computer nor Kindle has ever made me sneeze!