The Scent of Old Book

In search of something to read this fine Sunday afternoon, I picked up a book I bought for five dollars the other weekend, a hopefully-not-too dry Anthropology collection from forty-five years ago. Opening it up to a random page, I found that familiar, but increasingly rare fragrance: the scent of old book.

BookPhoto: Nina Zumel

I don’t know how to describe the smell, it’s just — old book. My lack of descriptive power tells you all you need to know about why I don’t make my living as a creative writer. What can I say? It smells good. It’s a little bit chemical, a little bit dusty. It smells like old paper, old good paper. Old letters smell like that, too. Old newspaper clippings, I think, don’t.

It smells like my grandmother, too, like the smell of her clothes folded neatly and tucked into her dresser way back when I was little, and she still lived with us. It’s the smell of the drawer of her bedside table, filled with her rosary and novena booklets, prayer cards and usually a romance novel.

Some of my mother’s clothes had that smell, clothes she had in the Philippines. Little peach dresses and beautiful, translucent camisa blouses, or baro, with their elaborate embroidery. I used to try the camisas on, hoping for a chance to wear them some day. I don’t think I ever did.

Baro 002 002The shawl-like lace blouses are camisas like my mother’s. Hers were made of embroidered material like the shirts on the right.
The top blouse is made of jusi (silk now, but originally banana fiber); the bottom one is made of piña (fiber from pineapple leaves).

I remember being with a friend a few years ago, as she unpacked a box of goodies sent over by relatives in Punjab. The box was filled with the 2-meter-or-so long bright colorful stoles called dupattas, along with boxes of bangles and packets of bindis, parandis for our hair. I lifted out a multicolored tie-dyed dupatta and waved it open.

“Smells like India,” another friend commented. I had been thinking it smelled like the Philippines. It was that smell.

P1000635Photo: Nina Zumel

I used to think of it as the smell as mothballs, I guess because of my grandmother. But it can’t be that, because why would books smell of mothballs? It isn’t India, it isn’t the Philippines. Or I should say, it isn’t only India, and not just the Philippines. It’s the smell of Somewhere Else.

And it’s also the scent of memories.

UPDATE: Welcome to all of you who are visiting via Freshly Pressed! I hope you like what you see. Thanks again to the WordPress editors for choosing this post to be featured.

243 thoughts on “The Scent of Old Book

  1. “I don’t know how to describe the smell, it’s just — old book. My lack of descriptive power tells you all you need to know about why I don’t make my living as a creative writer.”

    It seems to me that what you call a lack of descriptive power is more like a precise elegance and weight of words. Old book tells almost anyone who’s ever read one exactly what the smell is, and evokes it powerfully.

    Turning from one smell to drift into memory is something I find myself doing from time to time; someplace else for me is so often someplace home.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! Yes, I hope that a lot of people who read this know exactly what I’m talking about when I say “scent of old book.”

      It is amazing how smell evokes memories in a way that other senses often don’t. And I also find that the Someplace Else that is evoked by this smell is often somewhere that either I or a family member once called home.

  2. The smell of a book–old or new–is wonderful, and something that an e-Reader can’t ever hope to match. I love the smell of a book and the weight of it in my hand. It’s probably why I check out so many books whenever I go to the library, and why the library staff love me so much.

    1. I agree. I don’t want to knock ebooks, because they do have some advantages, but there is something sensual about a physical book that can’t be replaced by its electronic counterpart. And libraries are a danger zone for me, too. 🙂

    1. Oh first rain! Yes, that is also a wonderful smell, and not one we seem to get a lot in California. 🙂 Thanks for evoking it for me this morning.

  3. I love the old book smell too…sometimes they give me this allergy also…i think thats when they are really old and dusty…
    good post!… love the mention of different things in it…especially of the dopattas, since I am also from Punjab… 🙂

    1. Thanks for visiting! I always associated that smell (when not in the context of books) with my grandmother and with the Philippines. It was interesting to discover that its the same smell that comes from Punjab, and no doubt from other places, too ….

  4. Thanks for this reminder. My parents were both librarians, and I vividly recall going into the stacks in my father’s library and seeking out the oldest books I could find – some two hundered years old – and opening the pages just to capture that scent. In fact, I did that the last time I visited the library, after my parents died.

    1. Ah, the smell has double meaning for you then. Thank you for sharing that story; I hope I evoked good memories for you today…

    1. The smell of wisdom… I hadn’t thought of it, but if it’s the smell of grandmothers, then you definitely have a point.

      I live on the coast, and I’ve always loved the smell of the ocean, as well. The salt in the wind….

    1. Actually, garage sales have an interesting smell of their own, too, and the old book smell is definitely part of it 🙂

  5. I love the smell of an old book, or any book for that matter. The weight of a book in my small hands enlivens the words on the pages. I look for notes in the margin to bring nuanced wisdom. Retreading thoughts from my younger self I see foolishness or sometimes knowledge of life that I forgot. While I have an ereader now for something’s, I must to continue to have te spines of old friends on many shelves so I may caress them, smell them and feel safe.

    1. I have way too many books, books that were relavant at some point in my life but aren’t anymore. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them because those parts of my life are still important to me…

  6. The power to smell and then to be able to connect that smell with someone or something that happened a long time ago is one of my major hidden weaknesses and reading this post made me feel all the more special!

    And I agree..being able to describe a smell in words is a very difficult task. You seem to have done it very creatively and wonderfully well!

    Cheers and Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  7. Yes, the smell of an old book is wonderful. Also, the smell of a used bookstore. New bookstores don’t have it. And you’re right that a newspaper smell just isn’t the same–maybe becuase I’ve never been much of a newspaper reader. Still, that, too, is becoming more and more rare. I understand that someone has come up with a newsprint scented candle for people to burn while the read The New York Times on their Kindle. Sad.

    1. Newspaper definitely smells different. The idea of a candle to burn while reading the kindle is pretty funny. But how do you get the ink on your hands?

  8. wonderful post!
    you know, as im sure others here have said…teh power of smell is astounding….during one of my walks, i had to stay overnight in somebody’s barn, in which they also had some cows sectioned off….let me tell you straight away…just as soon as the smell of…well….a barn, i suppose….cow dung, hay, etc….hit my nose, i was back in that same little village i once visted as a child…some 45 years earlier…..!
    anyways, back to your posting…wonderful stuff…please carry on….!

  9. To my mind, you dont have a lack of writing knowledge at all! Reading your post, I found it as descriptive as anyone could make it. It’s just that describing smells is very subjective; it’s like somebody who is blind, trying to explain to a sighted person, what an elephant is.
    I hope you are a book lover like myself, too. I just love reading, and reading from real books, not those horrid e-books!

  10. Lovely post. I know the smell you speak of. My first thought was mothballs as well. Mothballs are VERY strong and the scent can get into anything. My grandmother used to use those as well. It is probably that in combination with the smell of memories 🙂

    1. I’m sure mothballs are actually some part of it, but I like to think it’s a mix of all kinds of things — including memories….

  11. Beautifully put! I work at a library and can defintely identify. I can also remember strong attachments to “grandma’s house smell” as a young child, only to find out later in life that it was just plywood glue and ivory soap. Still, it is a magical smell.

  12. I’m also a fan of book smells, particularly new ones that haven’t been cracked open by anyone but me but I also really like the old book smell too. Something about that just makes you feel special.

    1. Old book smell just makes me happy, in a way I hadn’t realized until yesterday morning. It’s nice to see that so many people feel the same.

  13. Beautiful. Yes, it’s really the smell of somewhere else now. Or a time that’s quickly passing. A time when we’ve been holding books and sensing their smell and feeling their weight and yes, preserving them with mothballs.

    1. Thankfully, I think the time of the physical book will not pass completely away for a while now. After all, vinyl record stores still do exist. It will simply be more rare, and perhaps for fewer of us…

  14. I remember once I brought home a book that a friend gave me to read. My cat got so interested by the book, that whenever I took it out of the bag, he would run to it and breathe in the smell. I don’t know what it smelled to him like, but it was quite an interesting observation.


  15. “It’s the smell of the drawer of her bedside table, filled with her rosary and novena booklets, prayer cards and usually a romance novel.”

    Reminds me so much of my own grandmother. 🙂

    I miss the smell of old book… and the scent of someplace else and memories.

    Hmm… Maybe it’s time for a visit to the used book store… hehehe. Any recommendations? 🙂

    1. Of used bookstores, you mean? I live in San Francisco, and I love Aardvark’s and Green Apple. Oh, and Borderlands, if you like sci-fi or horror or weird tales.

      Of books… where to begin? Obviously I like weird tales, so old Dover editions of ghost story collections are a good place to start…

      1. Hmm well I don’t think that we will have any bookstores in common, hehe, the only one out here that you might recognize might be ‘Russel’s new and used books’. There use to be so many little used book stores and now they’re so hard to find. Thanks for the recommendations, I always love to hear what other people’s favorites are, especially ones of a great writer like yourself. I’ll check out the Dover editions. 🙂

  16. I love that “old book” smell, as long as it’s not “old moldy book,” which I experienced plenty in my high school days. When the pages are slightly yellowed at the edges and have that crisp, slightly brittle feel, and you can feel the spine bending easily where it’s been bent many times before…that’s a good “old book.” The ones that are slightly soggy and reek of mold that is barely hidden in the bindings…not so much.

    Thanks for a beautiful post!

    1. You’re welcome! No mold, thankfully — the book that inspired this post is clean and slightly yellowed, and came with one mysterious blank yellow 3×5 card hidden in the index. The card smells like old book, too 🙂

    1. Thank you! Discovery is a good association to have with the smell too. As I’ve said to others, it’s interesting how strong the associations with smell can be, even when compared to the other senses.

      1. Yes, you’re right. I read somewhere that smell is our most primal sense – which I guess makes sense in terms of our evolution. I’m not sure I “like” the actual smell of old books – but because I associate it with documents and discovery – I get kind of excited by it.

  17. I remember years ago I had to do an assignment on observation for an anthropology class in which I described “the smell of old books and wet cigarette butts”. One of my fellow students was calling it poetic license. I just felt sorry he had no idea what I was talking about.

    Lovely post!

    1. Thank you! I’m sure if I’d read your anthropology assignment I would have known exactly what you were talking about — wet cigarette butts, too. And the smell of matches and lighters…

  18. Actually, the new Kindles allow you to not only pick your font, but they have a “Musty Mildew” and “Freshly Pressed” setting. Now you can alternate between “old book smell,” and one hot off the presses. I used to love the smell of old books. Now, I think of drug-resistant bacteria of the flesh-eating kind that will attach to the tip of my nose as I dig deep between the pages and slowly inhale. Amazing how scent often acts as a trigger for both good and bad memories. Congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed!”

    1. Thank you for that pleasantly gruesome image… :p

      I will maintain that old book smell is still probably healthier for you than new car smell (which, yes, I do also like).

      Cheers, thanks for stopping by!

  19. This makes me really want to go to a used bookstore.

    The book I’m currently reading is from a book exchange and it has the feeling of having been read by someone else already. It’s a nice touch that new books just don’t offer.

    1. I love finding used books with little inscriptions on the cover page or inside cover:

      “Happy Birthday!”

      “I thought of you when I saw this — hope you enjoy it!”

      And the things people use for bookmarks can be fun and interesting, too….

        1. Dog-ear to remember where you read last, or to mark the good parts? Do you agree with the previous readers about what the good parts are? Now there’s a blog post…

  20. Well I guess I’m not a nut case after all! Friends would always look at me sideways and smirk when I said how wonderful the smell of an old book was! All this time I thought I was different, to notice the smell of things. An old book is nice, to hold an old book even better. E readers may have a place but will never REplace an old book.

    1. Well, if you are nuts, there are clearly over a hundred of us who are nuts right alongside you!

      One of the commenters up above claims there is a newsprint-scented candle that one burns while reading the New York Times on their ereader… maybe we will have to invent and “old book scent” candle.

      Still wouldn’t be the same, though….

    1. Thank you! Good luck with your library transformation project. And may all the physical books give you many years of pleasure. 🙂

  21. Beautiful post! I have books that belonged to my great-great grandfather in the 1850s. The smell, the feel of them in my hands…what a magnificent connection to my own family’s past. Congratulations to you on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. How lucky for you! What a wonderful connection.

      I don’t have anything like that, but I do have a copy of the recipe book that my grandmother gave to my mother when my parents emigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. It’s not my mom’s copy (she still has that), but another one that I found in a bookstore many years later, still with the recipe clippings from the previous owner.

  22. Smell of old books should be just a dry paper smell, especially if the books are used and aren’t mouldy. Not everything has been converted to electronic and never will be.

    I advise people to look at the paper quality of books in medieval times, etc. Of course, those books may have handwritten calligraphy, a whole art form. It is amazing and durable. Compared to our high acid paper which many books are published now in the past few decades.

    From a cyclist, who is also a trained library by formal education and by career. Until recently. (I switched.)

    1. There is also the ink and the glue (yes, I know good books are stitched…). Someone above posted a link to another blog article, that talks about the breakdown of chemicals that give the smell:

      I’ve never had the privilege of handling an actual antiquarian (medieval, for example) book. That must be something. I wonder if it smells the same way?

      1. I can’t claim alot of expertise in book/paper conservation. I did take a course which involved actual repair of a 16th century book. I have worked in a library where we could not afford to repair the texts. Books were 18th texts on British law. Yes, they were occasionally consulted. And disintegration cause black marks on our clothing.

  23. Yes! Oh, bringing all the senses into experiences is key and there is for sure something magical about “old book” smell. Somehow it makes picking up an old book more personal and I find I am imagining who may have read it and loved it . . . picking up “old” things and feeling, seeing and smelling the “old” ness somehow makes the item and its past owners friends . . . great post.

    1. Thank you! I do love old books and the sense of connection to past readers. I didn’t set out to do it, but there are several posts around that theme scattered through my blog (there’s no tag to make them easy to find, unfortunately…)

  24. I love the smell of books, either really old ones or really new ones. Sometimes before I start reading a book, I’ll just stick my nose in it and take a deep breath. Best smell in the world, if you ask me.

    1. One of my favorite smells, too. I’ve been reading a lot of ebooks lately, so I’d forgotten about it, but I’m so glad I’ve been reminded…

  25. Ahh what a perfect post, you know its funny, I have two 3 meter high cuboards in my room that equal up to 10 shelfs all together (yes I counted) and I recently signed up for the ‘goodreads’ website. I had to go through all my books to enter them into goodreads (i have not finished it.) As soon as I opened those cuboards the smell of old books was just so powerful and made me so happy. 🙂 thank you for writing this, and thank you to wordpress for freshly pressing it.

  26. Scent is a time machine. Chanel number five is my particular blast to the past. I close my eyes and visualise the girl I was. The scent of old books is somebody else’s history which is why pre e-book readers like it. I wonder who the book belonged to and where that person is now. Sometimes there are inscriptions on the fly leaf: ‘to Gerald on his fifth birthday from his Aunty Maud, 1952.’ I where Gerald is and how it made its way to the second hand bookshop. Congratulations on being freshly pressed. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I love the flyleaf inscriptions, too, and the bookplates.

      I was never a perfume wearer, but to this day I have a terrible weakness for Paco Rabanne aftershave. It reminds me of high school dances…

  27. Loved this: I tried to write my own post on the smell of old books, but you’ve really captured the feeling here, took it further than I was able to. Thanks! It’s fun to read such a familiar experience and nostalgia from a different background. (And my old books smell like Grandma, too, I think (: )

  28. i don’t know but whenever i go shopping for books in bookstores, i usually smell it first and if it smells ancient, i usually buy it. (without even reading the plot at the back!)

  29. They say that scent is the sense most closely tied to memory. I wouldn’t know, I have an extremely poor sense of smell. (sigh) It’s like I’m living only half a life!

    1. I have a fairly poor sense of smell too, but some scents do come through. You probably don’t realize it, but I bet you would recognize the smell of your parents’ house, or your own, for instance. Maybe your favorite bar or coffeehouse.

      I know the smell of my favorite dance studio (the capoeira class that comes right before my class is probably what I smell 🙂 )…

      1. My nose is really bad. Back when I worked in a coffee shop I was expected to be able to describe different varietals of coffee by smell and taste. I’d have to exhale all the air out of my lungs, hold the cup under my nose, then inhale for all I’m worth to try to catch a whiff. I have been well-protected from stinky-ness my whole life so I’m not sure if it’s a curse or a blessing… 🙂

        1. Well, you’re more discerning of the texture of food than most people, though also less sensitive to certain flavors. People with less sensitive noses are supposed to be more fond of the taste and textures of fats and oils.

          Maybe that’s not a blessing….

  30. Because I teach middle school students, I thought I was some sort of ancient alien for loving that smell. I forget that there are others still out there who are like me. Congratulations on a beautifully written post.

  31. This is wonderful, thank you – such a lovely reminder (and so well written!) of the incredibly varied things the sense of smell evokes, not just the wonderful smell of old books, which I also love with a passion precisely because one is transported.

    I’m in Paris, and now you’ve inspired me to go browse the bouquinistes, who sell thousands and thousands of old books from stalls by the Seine! Though I admit there’s something special about going into an actual used bookstore – the good kind, full of carefully-chosen books – and experiencing that smell all around you.

    Anyway – thank you for this great post!

    1. Thanks for the kind words! The smell of an good used bookstore (or a good library) is a wonderful thing. The book stalls you describe sound lovely, too. Enjoy your browsing!

  32. There is a totally different feeling of an old book compared to a new one. I think that underneath every coffee stain and every earmark there’s a story of the man/woman who owned it before us. And the scent is to die for! That’s why I’ll never be reading books on e-book readers, and I’ll keep buying the books from second-hand bookshops. Lovely post!

    1. E-readers have their good points, but they definitely fall short on the sensual aspects of the reading experience. And the used bookshop experience is part of that sensuality, even more than the new-book bookstore, as you say. Keep enjoying that — I know I will!

  33. Really lovely post. I love reading in bed before switching the lights off, but sometimes I spend more time smelling the book than actually reading it. It’s a comforting smell, it triggers beautiful thoughts and daydreams, and then I fall asleep…

    1. Thanks for the kind words! You have me thinking of reading in bed, with a cup of hot fragrant herbal tea next to me. Mmmm, the smells! There are worse ways to fall asleep….

  34. Wonderful post!

    I love not only the smell of old book but also the sight of old book. As I read your post I look at all the books lined up on the shelves in my office. All with great titles seemingly shouting “Read me, read me”.

    Thanks for posting.

    1. You are quite welcome. Browsing my own bookshelf can be a dangerous thing for me, too. I wander over just to dust or straighten things out, and I see a book that I haven’t read for a while (or perhaps never even got to — I buy them faster than I read them). I pull it out, and next thing you know, an hour has gone by, and I haven’t finished my dusting….

  35. Great post! There is a perfume by CB I Hate Perfume called In the Library, and it smells like old books! It’s got notes of leather, pipe tobacco, dust, the glue used for binding, and a sweetness that is like the garments you describe above. There’s also a version by Demeter called Paperback that is supposed to smell like a Barbara Pym paperback. I have a series on book perfumes on my blog, if you want to read about others.

    1. A commenter up above somewhere mentiong that there is a perfume (or a perfumed candle?) that smells like newsprint. Thanks for mentioning your blog post, I’ve found your blog and I will search that post out. Sounds like fun!

  36. Beautifully written. I sometimes open up some of the old books of my parents, just to inhale that particular “fragrance” which is quite soothing and tells the story of the life span of a book, I think.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I also find that smell quite comforting, and it seems from all the likes and comments — many many people do…

  37. I like the smell of old books too. Kindles and Nooks can’t do that.

    Funny how evocative scents can be, isn’t it? Every time I smell honeysuckle, lilac or rain-washed earth, it takes me back to my childhood.

    1. Smell does seem more tied to memory than the other senses. Jasmine reminds me of my grandmother, aftershave reminds me of high school dances…

      Reminds us to put down the electronics and go for a walk, doesn’t it?

  38. It’s always comforting to find others that appreciate smells. There are so many memories and seemingly “worlds” in the smell of an old book. The average person tends to look at me sideways when I get busted smelling things, but it is something I cherish. Especially fresh electronics or freshly printed money also.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. You are quite welcome. New money does have a nice smell, though I think I’ve never noticed the smell of fresh electronics. I shall have to pay attention next time!

  39. Scent of memories…

    I like that line, at first I was hesitant to read the entry because of the word ‘multo’, it is past 2:00 a.m now here in Philippines and I thought the entry is all about ghosts, good thing it isn’t. your entry made a profound impression to me, it shows, how we Filipinos think about certain things. That we, somehow are appreciative. Nice to see your entry in ‘freshly press’.

    1. Thank you! I do write about ghosts — ghost stories, and stories from my parents or from my reading about multos and aswangs and so on. But not always. Glad you liked it!

  40. As I read your post, I started to smell the scent even though I’m no where near anything old.I know exactly what you are talking about. Before today, I never thought of it as comforting so thanks for that 🙂

  41. Love your post and have “pressed” it over on my blog. I’m fairly new to the blogging world – hope I did it properly – linking back to the post and your blog as a whole.

    Thanks for the beauty – pam

  42. I think that you are an amazing creative writer, you don’t have to describe something to a T because some of the most amazing things in the world are indescribable. I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to reading more of your writings. Keep up the great work and always have faith in yourself because that is what makes a great writer.

  43. You have so clearly described how important our senses are with evoking memories. When one experiences a big change in your life, one looks for threads of the familiar and this is when familiar scents are so important. Keep blogging.

  44. A truly great post. I can so much relate to what you are feeling in terms of the joy of simple things such as the scent of a book. It’s saddening that we’re losing touch of those little things that make life great.

  45. This is a beautiful post. It’s interesting how you shared that the scent of old book made you think of your grandmother, and also of Somewhere Else. Reading your post made me have some memories of my own, so thank you. I also enjoyed the illustrations of the clothing.

  46. “And it’s also the scent of memories.” That nails it right there. If it was just about the words, ebooks would win hands down. But physical objects carry history with them. We don’t so much love the smell of an old book as much as we love the memories associated with that smell. The physical book is a reminder of that history.

    1. Physical books are a sensual experience in a way that ebooks are not, and that includes the smell, and the associated memories, maybe not even of that book per se, but of the whole experience of reading. I read mostly electronically now, but it’s always special when I pick up an old book. And new physical books are a pleasure, too.

      1. Yep, totally. I think ebooks are a logical progression, but hopefully we don’t lose that physical contact completely.

  47. I know exactly what you mean by the scent of “old books”. unfortunately, I seem to consistently run into the books that have an intensely bad “old book” smell, that of mildew and mold, overall, a general lack of care for the book. It’s a rather sad concept for me, since I usually do run across these books while working in the library. However, I own several old books of my own that have a delicious “old book” smell that is exactly what you described. I love it. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. Luckily the used bookstores that I haunt tend to winnow out the moldy icky volumes, so the books that I encounter generally have been loved and cared for. They all smell wonderful. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  48. I’ve always found that an old book smells like a forest after a heavy rain storm, normally in early winter, November time, when it’s still quite warm and not quite the frezze that you would expect to feel in Febuary. Funny how smells of old things remind us of our grand parents, interestingly enough my grand mothers fingers always felt like paper to me.

    1. A lovely description. Thank you! And it is funny how our grandparents are wrapped into that same set of smells in our memories…

  49. Do you remember the plastic-y smell of brand new school text books? That always gave me a headache. The paper-y smell of a good ol’ text book or library book, though… magical.

    1. Oddly enough, I can’t bring new book smell to mind (several people have commented on it). But I’m sure it was chemical — like new car smell…

    1. Fortunately, I still see people lurking in used book stores, so all is not lost. Maybe we all curl up and read them at home….

  50. I just recently found an amazing secondhand bookshop in Barcelona and reading this post reminded me of the first time I walked into that shop. It smelt like “old book”. 🙂
    Beautiful post.

  51. What a great post! The smell of books is one of my favorites. When I have a bad day I always go home pull an old book off my book case open in up and inhale the scent. Amazing how smells can be so calming and bring back great memories.

  52. Ancient leaves. That’s what I think of, when wandering into a second hand bookshop; like treading softly through a forest, new leaves above, dessicated ones crackling below, unleashing their fragrance.

  53. Reblogged this on Welcome and commented:
    I remembered how excited I was to smell the scent of old books when I found them from the bottom of my grandparents’ old large case…Love the smell and my grandparents

  54. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! My mom has an old rosewood hope chest with a Chinese fertility symbol carved into the top. She’s filled it with all her old ballet clothes and keepsakes, and YES it has that “old book” smell. Beautiful.

    1. Thank you! It’s been great to hear from so many people who know exactly what I’m talking about with that “old book” smell. I’m sure it must be wonderful to sometimes go through the things in your mother’s hope chest…

  55. Yes, the scent is intoxicating. Yet being highly tactile, I am all about how it feels to open one and diving in! You won’t get either from kindle.
    Great post.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. I like reading about folklore, and folk beliefs, and anthropology papers are often a good source. The book in question had an early version of “Shakespeare in the Bush,” which I’d never come across before, so it was a good find. (the post after this one… 🙂

  56. I know that smell. And much like a song and how it can take you back to the exact place and time in your life when you haven’t heard it in a while—that feeling, those memories are irreplaceable. Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  57. I’m sorry to say you’re wrong about the smell of books, it’s actually caused from the gateway to other worlds being activated when they’re opened, one would think it should smell of ozone… Seriously though, I’m blind and even I keep books for that smell. Thick leatherbounds also look good on the shelves, at least, they’re better than knick-knacks.

    1. Ha! I always suspected. Thanks for the laugh.

      Thick leatherbounds look good, smell good, and feel good. A wise choice..

  58. I also prefer reading from an actual book. There is this kind of nostalgic feeling I always experience when reading the book and the smell of it is just so nice that I agree brings back memories.

  59. I think you did an elegant job of describing this fragrance. As a seller of used books online, I always feel it’s necessary to indicate if books have the “old-book fragrance” when describing them because many people don’t care for it, especially the younger ones who feel that Kindles and Nooks are superior to a real book (ah, misguided youth). I’ve heard it called “musty,” “moldy,” “stinky,” and “gross.” When I first smelled patchouli, the first thing it evoked was the fragrance of old books. Like walking into a bakery, tobacconists, or shop specializing in leather coats and bags, I’ll often wander into a used book store just to get a whiff of that lovely fragrance. I think, like the taste of chocolate, smells we like trigger something in our brains which makes us feel good.

    1. Such a shame that some people don’t like the old book smell! Bakeries, tabacconists, leather goods shops all do smell wonderful. I would add cafe’s and ice cream shops to that list, too…

  60. I too enjoy the old book smell… It’s odd but at the same time comforting. It reminds me of the first book I picked up and read it reminds me of my grandmothers old historical romances novels. It reminds me of happy times, as I said it is odd :))

  61. “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.”
    -Perfumes: The Guide

  62. I’ve smelled the insides of an old baul. It smells like mothballs. Mothballs remind me of home. Of Philippines.

    They say your sense of smell is the best memory trigger so maybe that’s why we’re so drawn to old familiar smells?

    1. Yup, mothballs remind me of Philippines, too. And remind my Indian friends of India…

      I do think the connection between smell and memory is what makes some smells so comforting…

  63. i love the smell of freshly opened pages, old books especially! and sundays and slow sunday activities don’t forget! very nice post multo, i wish you could also try the smell of mainland china, very distinct too!

    1. Thank you! Sundays for me are still the smell of coffee and brunch, just no newsprint anymore…

      And hopefully someday I will experience the smell of mainland China 🙂

  64. Well said. Brings back childhood memories of meandering around little bookshops with my dad, piled to the ceiling with books and losing oneself in the narrow lanes left for navigating around the store. And that smell. Always that smell…

    1. I remember bookstores similar to that, too. Reading your comment, I could almost smell them in my mind. Good memories; I’m glad I could recall them for you, and thank you for recalling them to me.

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