Smell of Books

Ashley Thorne

I’ll always remember one assignment from my freshman year College Writing II class. We were to go to the New York Public Library (the big one with the lion statues in front), request a book from the deepest darkest part of the archives, and smell it. I don’t recall the title of the antique text I sent for; in fact, I don’t think I read it at all. But it had a smell. Gingerly leafing through its decaying yellow-brown pages, I sniffed at the binding, trying not to do it too conspicuously in front of the other people in the Rose Reading Room. 

I’m out of college now, and I’m currently reading The Blithedale Romance (inspired by Erin O’Connor’s posting). And I’m reading it on a Kindle.

Alas, the Kindle—with all its name’s connotations of a crackling, smoky woodiness that seems compatible with the dry papery smell of old books—carries as much scent as a computer screen. It smells like nothing.

But books were meant to enable the reader to go beyond passing his eyes over ink (either electronic or real). They should awaken the senses. They should be smelled. The English novelist George Robert Gissing said, “I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.” 

In the age of the Kindle, Google Books, the iPhone, and audio books, will we now forget “all sorts of things”? Not if we order a can of Smell of Books™ from DuroSport Electronics. Smell of Books™ comes in four fragrances: Classic Musty Smell, New Book Smell, Scent of Sensibility, Eau You Have Cats, and Crunchy Bacon Scent. These aromas come in aerosol spray cans and can be used to make any e-book smell like a traditional book. See for product descriptions and suggested retail prices.

UPDATE: On closer inspection, the entire Smell of Books™ product line has unfortunately been recalled due to complaints from customers and The Authors Guild. Readers looking to restore authenticity to their library must have their hopes deferred once again.

So to those reading this fragrance-free website who figured out that Smell of Books was a spoof all along, I exhort you to find an old book and reacquaint yourself. Then track down a local college’s required summer reading and compare smells. As for me, I’m off to the library to rent a book on tape.

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