The Quote Garden

 I dig old books.

 Est. 1998

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Quotations about the Smell of Books

Welcome to my page of quotations about the smell of books and sniffing books. Yes, I am a book sniffer! IMHO, the best smells in the world are coffee, old books, petrichor, and evening orange blossoms. There isn't yet a word meaning the smells or smelling of books, but two popular suggestions are ‘biblichor’ and ‘bibliosmia.’  —ღ Terri

Front shop and back shop reeked with the smells of new mahogany, dust, pillar-stove, gum, hot-pressed paper and Russian leather. ~May Sinclair, "Disjecta Membra Poetæ," The Divine Fire, 1904

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

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

Walking down the third aisle of the stack beneath tin-shaded lightbulbs, smelling the familiar library scents of must and dust and cinnamony, aging paper, he thought: When I die, I guess I'll go with a library card in one hand and an OVERDUE stamp in the other. Well, maybe there's worse ways. ~Stephen King, It, 1986

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 scent, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things...
      My Shakespeare has an odour which carries me further back in life; for these volumes belonged to my father, and before I was old enough to read them with understanding, it was often permitted me, as a treat, to take down one of them from the bookcase, and reverently to turn the leaves. The books smell exactly as they did in that old time, and what a strange tenderness comes upon me when I hold one of them in hand... ~George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, 1903  [a little altered —tg]

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, and vanilla. –tg]

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

But eventually, of course, she came upon the book sniffer, as most visitors do if they delve into the depths of a library. ~Meia Geddes, The Little Queen, 2017

My own love of books begins long before I start to read them. First of all, I am an incurable book-sniffer; when I open a new book I at once savour its scent, and I have had some odd looks from bookshop assistants in consequence... ~Bernard Levin, 1982

i love to
smell the flowers
and sniff the books
sitting in gardens
and library nooks
~Terri Guillemets, "Petals & leaves," 1995

So I retreated further into books and daydreams. Books! Books were the window from which I looked out of a rather meager and decidedly narrow room, onto a rich and wonderful universe. I loved the look and feel of them, even the smell. I'm still a book sniffer. That evocative mixture of paper and ink and glue and dust never fails to bring back the twinge of excitement that came with the opening of a new book. Libraries were treasure houses. I always entered them with a slight thrill of disbelief that all their endless riches were mine for the borrowing. And librarians I approached with reverent awe — guardians of the temple, keepers of the golden treasure. ~Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1927–2014), "Autobiography," 1985

The book sniffer's assignment was to sniff the books, ensure that they all smelt as they should. Each day, she took in a deep breath, let one out in exchange, and forgot to stop. She inhaled these fields of books waiting to be smelled, imagined each little space for each little letter. Lights would gleam through book spines, illuminating cover edges. ~Meia Geddes, The Little Queen, 2017

Stacks of books were piled all over my grandmother's house, sturdy hardback books thick with ivory-deckled pages. Important books. I would open them and randomly sift through the pages, dipping my face down into the spine to sniff, comparing the aroma of one book to another. I remain a book sniffer to this day... Gram loved being swept away by poetry and stories, and she wanted to share that love with me. ~Linda Joy Myers, "The Gifts She Gave Me," Song of the Plains, 2017  [a little altered —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

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  [a little altered —tg]

...we have perfectly lovely smelling old leather books in our library. ~Kate Trimble Sharber (b.1883), The Annals of Ann, 1910

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, Head of Laboratory for Cultural Heritage at the University Library of Slovenia, quoted in "The Smell of Old Books?," The Naked Scientists' Science Questions,, 2008

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published 2015 Sep 21
revised Dec 2017, Nov 2019
last saved 2024 Mar 6