Smelly Books

My daughter has developed the habit of burying her nose in books and giving a description of the smell. Until I tried it for myself, I pretty much thought books fell into three categories with regards to their aroma: secondhand books, new books and new art & design books, which have a delicious finely nuanced fragrance all of their own.

She just did it again, and it gave me the idea of doing a random smell experiment to see whether books do carry individual aromas. We used a small stack that happened to be by my chair which had a mix of old and new books and the book she happened to be reading and sniffing (see if you can guess which!).


We both had a good sniff at each volume and found that each book does indeed have its own unique combination of aromas. Here’s what we made of them:

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie –  mild aroma of antique shops; the inside of a lady’s handbag; faint stale tobacco.

Stammered Songbook by Erwin Mortier – new shoes, leather; woodchip; tupperware.

The Barmies by Jo Sandelson – pine; herbs; rain; Mondays.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – gloss paint, new car interiors; old bottled water.

Pilgrimage 3 by Dorothy Richardson – strong aroma of antique shops, black coffee with two sugars and an iced bun; soil.

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge – other people’s living rooms; a freshly ironed cotton shirt; old vinyl.

I’m quite excited about this. I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new way to enjoy my books, although I’ll be getting thrown out of secondhand bookshops for peculiar behaviour if I’m not careful. I’d love to know what aromas you can detect in your books, and apologies to all you kindle lovers – you just can’t play this game without the real thing! Still, if you miss the rich complex aroma of the pre-loved paperback you can always invest in one of these (or an actual book!).


I’ve scheduled this post as I’m currently away, so I won’t be able to reply to your comments straight away. So don’t be offended, I’m not ignoring you, and I look forward to catching up on my return!