The smell of old books


I am currently reading a first edition book from 1876 entitled, “The Life of Gideon Ouseley.”

There is something about the way it smells.

As I lose myself in my surroundings, an occasional scent wafts my way, and I take notice of it each time because it is so distinctly out of place. One would expect an old book to smell dank and musty. But instead, it smells fresh and resinous, much like Irish Spring soap.

As I gingerly turn the pages, I see an occasional fingerprint, undoubtedly from some reader in the past who never intended to leave proof of its reading.

I have experienced an unexpected result in reading old books. I have rare, out of print books on my mobile device, but it is not the same; I am talking about the fragrant book before me, and all the others I have read. I feel a warm connection to the life of this book. Who all had read it before me? How long ago was the book last read? What kind of person owned it along the way? What country did they live in? What did the library look like in the owner’s home?

Some people feel a great sense of purpose in preserving the current world for the future. I understand, and play my part in it. But, I feel just as strong of a passion to preserve our heritage for generations that will never know what they are missing.

This book will rest in my library when I have finished reading it. I have to wonder-how many years will pass before my children are ready to, or are interested in reading it? Twenty years? More? What fragrance will this book absorb while in our home?

This book is three dimensional. I don’t just read static words on a page-I experience it. I smell the aroma, I feel the raised type resulting from a bygone printing process, I see inscriptions made by former owners, and I hear the binding creak with age.

I continue to read e-books, but it seems so transactional. And, unsurprisingly, their convenience does not compare with the endearment of the real thing.

One thought on “The smell of old books

  1. I love this Brandon and I so agree. Old books and frankly bookstores and libraries have unique scents from all of the real, solid ingredients put together to contain ideas: fragrances that I simply adore. They cannot be replicated.

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