Quotes about the Smell of Old Books

I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent. ~Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, 2007

Vic smelled the vast vault filled with books before she saw it…. She breathed deeply of the scent of decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue, and cleverness. ~Joe Hill, N0S4A2, 2013

He found himself in a room not unlike the shop. All books again, packed tight on shelves or laying in piles on every surface. It was a cozy room, for all that; it smelled of warm, rich words and very deep thoughts. ~Jenny Nimmo, Midnight for Charlie Bone, 2002

You cannot hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. I don’t care what they say about “e-books.” A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book: a book is new, it smells great; a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. So a book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry. ~Ray Bradbury, interview with Sam Weller, 2010

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. ~George Robert Gissing

Old books smell of dust and the literary smoke of history, of writer soul and the ink of eternity. ~Terri Guillemets

However pleasant it may be for book lovers, Morgan Library & Museum Curator Christine Nelson says that old-book smell is ultimately a sign of a book’s slow decay. “There’s this wonderful romance around old books, but as a curator, that smell makes me think, ‘ooh, that book’s had a hard life.’” ~Carrie Arnold, “How science may help us smell the past,” Chemical & Engineering News, 2017 [Words to describe the smell of old books according to researchers at University College London, Institute for Sustainable Heritage: coffee, chocolate, oil, pungent, sweet, almond, bread, grass, tallow, green, gasoline, burnt sugar, lemon, orange, rancid, soy. The St. Paul’s Cathedral Library is described as smelling woody, smoky, earthy, vanilla. –tg]

Olivia Giacobetti is here at her imaginative, humorous best, and Dzing! (L’Artisan Parfumeur) is a masterpiece smelling of paper. You can spend a good while trying to figure out whether it is packing cardboard, kraft wrapping paper, envelopes while you lick the glue, old books, or something else…. Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good-quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us. ~Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez, Perfumes: The Guide, 2008

Bookshops are the most charming of all shops…. Mr. Rowlandson’s had stairs worn by the footfalls of four generations of book-hunters…. The composed, brown calf bindings give the shop its tone,—and its faint odor, too; a cultivated taste, the liking for that odor of old books. ~Munson Havens, Old Valentines: A Love Story, 1914

The aroma of an old book is familiar to every user of a traditional library. A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents. ~Matija Strlič, a chemist at University College London, quoted in “The smell of old books analysed by scientists,” The Telegraph, 2009

Eau de book is frequently identified as smelling like chocolate and coffee. ~Mary Beth Griggs, “Sniffing out literary smells,” Popular Science, 2017, paraphrased

An odour of a book is a complex mixture of odorous volatiles, emitted from different materials from which books are made. Due to the different materials used to make books throughout history, there is no one characteristic odour of old books. The pleasant smell is due to aromatic compounds emitted mainly from papers made from ground wood which are characterised by their yellowish-brown colour. They emit vanilla-like, sweetly fragrant vanillin, aromatic anisol and benzaldehyde, with fruity almond-like odor. On the other hand, terpene compounds, deriving from rosin, which is used to make paper more impermeable to inks, contribute to the camphorous, oily and woody smell. A mushroom odour is caused by some other, intensely fragrant aliphatic alcohols. ~Jana Kolar (The Naked Scientists’ Science Questions, 2008, “The Smell of Old Books,” thenakedscientists.com)  #bibliosmia