Brooklyn perfumery I Hate Perfume has a scent called “In the Library,” inspired by the familiar smells of the library. They may smell like bookbinding and vague mildew to some, but for perfumer Christopher Brosius, “these scents mean Excitement, Adventure, Discovery, Enlightenment and Knowledge.”
Whenever I read, the start of the journey is always opening the book and breathing deeply. There are few things more wonderful than the smell of a much-loved book. Newly printed books certainly smell very different from older ones. Their ink is so crisp though the odor of their paper is so faint. Older books smell riper and often sweeter. Illustrated books have a very different odor from those with straight text and this smell often speaks of their quality. I’ve also noticed that books from different countries and different periods have very individual scents too. These speak not only of their origin, but of their history to this moment. I can distinguish books that were well cared for from those that were neglected. I can often tell books that lived in libraries where pipes or cigars were regularly smoked. Occasionally I run across one that I am certain belonged to an older woman fond of powdery scent. Books from California smell very different from those I buy in New York, London or Paris. I can tell books that have come from humid places – these have a musty richness in the scent of their pages.
To many of course, these various bookish odors mean nothing. But to an avid reader and collector like myself, these smells are as magical as the bouquet of a great wine is to a connoisseur – a sort of literary terroir. These scents mean Excitement, Adventure, Discovery, Enlightenment and Knowledge. Of course my deep love of reading is exactly what lead me in the first place to begin capturing the scent of books and of the libraries where they live. That’s what this perfume is all about.
And then of course there are the scents of different bindings: the glues, the leathers, the cloths and boards, even the paperbacks all have very unique characteristics and, to my mind, add an extra dash of personality to an otherwise mundane object. And yes, sometimes if a book has had the misfortune of being very poorly kept, I can detect a faint whiff of mildew. This doesn’t bother me in the least. It means this book has survived.
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