The Smell of Books


“I’ll buy a Kindle when they create a ‘book smell’ app.” I wrote that right before I caved in and bought a tablet computer. But the smell was never the point. It was the memories it evoked (although I do still love the moldy redolence of old library books and inky fragrance of paperbacks).

The first girl I ever made out with was a teasy little blonde from Texas who accidentally-on-purpose spilled her perfume on my car seat. For years afterward, every time I smelled White Shoulders I’d turn in a haze of lustful memories and see an old lady pushing a walker (somehow White Shoulders became the official scent of the blue-haired set). Talk about cognitive dissonance!

The smell of books was even more alluring. Their scent was the perfume of my true soulmate: Stories. I can’t remember when I wasn’t in love with books, with the places they took me, the feelings they stirred, the ideas they introduced me to.

I can still recall the smell of Huckleberry Finn, The Call of the Wild and The Three Musketeers. (Don’t think literally here, think literary.) Later, books like The Once and Future King, Dune, The Lord of the Rings, The Time Machine, Slaughterhouse Five, and Watership Down took me to places I could never have gone without them.

Books like Cry the Beloved Country, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Great Gatsby, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Native Son and Catcher in the Rye broadened my understanding of what it means to be human.

And finally, books by writers like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Underhill, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and most importantly The Bible, changed who I am.

No doubt many traditionalists (including me) will keep their “real books,” just as jazz and blues aficionados keep their “real recordings” on pristine black licorice discs. But it’s the memories that really endure. When Gutenberg introduced the printed book, how many monks and scholars missed the smell of “real books” on vellum and parchment?

Will the upcoming generation miss the “real book” smell of plastic e-readers when heads-up-displayed holographic books take their place? Prolly.

But what will never go away—God forbid!—are the journeys, the feelings, the ideas, the places they take us to.

Oh, those sultry summer nights spent feathering the edges and inhaling the aroma of my first love, stories, before drifting off to dream of the places they’d taken me to.

Goodbye, books, I love you.

Hello, books, I love you.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Books, Humor, Memoir, Story Power, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to The Smell of Books

  1. I know whereof you speak! Ah, books, I love you. Thank you for such a delightful post to brighten my Saturday. *smiling*

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Eliza Ayres says:

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reely Bernie says:

    My sense of smell is the strongest. I’m not sure why, and I haven’t looked into it, but I can smell things miles away, and I can smell things that bring me back to childhood. I know perfumes of Italy that some women wear here, and I know an old book (The Catcher in the Rye) by its smell as it was passed from my dad’s brother to my dad to me. And, then there’s sheet music. Sheet music from my grandma who is no longer with us has the smell of my “Gaga” and her hands on the piano. Lastly, libraries. I was at the Brooklyn Library in October and was overwhelmed by the smell of the books. It is actually a very bland looking library, but my brain goes to the smell immediately. You get me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Cindy Dawson says:

    I don’t think e-books can ever replace “real” books. I like to look at my books all lined up on the shelves. E-books disappear into never-land, almost like you never read them. But those books I can hold in my hands, well, that’s a different story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Erika Kind says:

    I am still an e-book refuser. As you said, the smell is one thing that makes books special. It is holding it in hand, thumbing through the pages, feeling the spirit of the story or the message coming through by only opening it. I think it is a big difference, what kind of book it is. I basically read books with spiritual messages. Therefore I want to read them again or parts of them. Sometimes I can even remember the page and where it was on that page when looking for a specific statement. But I think I would forget about it and about the book if I did not see it on my shelf from time to time.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You took me back to memories of those books I read! Thank you! 🙂 I still read sometimes ‘real’ books. However, more often using Kindle version. I have got a little library at my home, books which are so close to me. I cannot imagine how my life would looks like today if I wouldn’t love books so much. I think I am one of those lucky people who are going through life with a book in their hand! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Bette Cox says:

    Oh, yes, yes, yes.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. badfinger20 says:

    Nothing like a real book in your hand. Because of my commute everyday I listen to audio books now so I can “read” more but it’s not the same. If I like the audio book I usually get the book.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. sniderjerry says:

    A wise man said more than once, “A book is a gift you can open more than once.” Happy reading, Jerry

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I haven’t bought a tablet yet…..still holding out! I love books, too!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I am with you. Books, books, and more books! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Narfphagus says:

    This question is great – When Gutenberg introduced the printed book, how many monks and scholars missed the smell of “real books” on vellum and parchment?

    Gonna have to use this one!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Heidi Viars says:

    I think I can smell what you’re stepping in, Mitch

    Liked by 1 person

  14. CG Thelen says:

    Your words brought back the rich smell of books like the aroma of a fresh pot of coffee permeating the room. I too wonder if all you ever knew were digital books, can you relate to the smell of paper books. Perhaps someone will make a spray called “Old Spice – Book Scent” that can be sprayed on a tablet for a paper book experience. This could also be used to scent a hologram of a bookshelf.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. E says:

    Mitch. I had no idea. !
    As for book smell I’ve dabbled in audio books but can’t bare to part from real books (because I underline everything and cry, sing or curse like mad in the margins) or real magazines, because I love the free samples of designer perfume (no white shoulders tho 😂).

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ann Coleman says:

    I love traditional books too! But your are right, it’s the ideas from the stories that count, not the form they come in. So we old fogies will just have to adjust. And hang on to our real books until they pry them out of our cold, dead, fingers!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. laronda65 says:

    I think part of the decision lies in WHY you’re reading-for information or experience. I think when I’m reading for the experience, it’s sort of a way for my eyes to listen to the author. And however I choose to read, the most amazing thing is the way I hear the author’s voice as it tells a story AND my voice as it reacts to that story. That’s one of the things that makes reading so intimate. Also, even though it isn’t really pertinent here, there is nothing sweeter than hearing an author read their own words. It blows me away to hear Maya Angelou recite her own poetry!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Apparently I am the oddball here. I fell in love with books in the second grade, and I grew up with a book either in my hand or very close at hand. But when I bought my first Kindle in 2010, I fell in love all over again — with my Kindle tablet.

    Now, I find it very difficult to read a “real” physical book. People still give me physical books as gifts from time to time, and I have to force myself to read them. More often than not, I give up and buy the ebook version, if it’s available. Right now I have 508 books on my ereader. An entire library that I can carry in one hand! Classics, contemporary novels, memoirs, how-to books, psychology books, and several entire translations of the Bible, all at my fingertips. I’m in ebook heaven!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      With you, Linda! I still read hard copies here and there, but have become pretty enamored with the practical benefits of e-readers: backlit, scalable type, built-in dictionary and word etymology, instant online purchasing and download, etc. Still, I’ll always treasure my old dogeared hard copies, and re-read favorites (along with my liner notes) from time to time.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. nitinsingh says:

    Lovely post 🤓👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I love books too. My mom was a librarian, and she always encouraged my brother and me to read all kinds of things. She never even complained about comic books!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. NayNay says:

    Good to discover that I am not the only person who like to smell books 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  23. sangita2020 says:

    Loved your post. I still like to read books the traditional way and yes, I like their smell too.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    I totally smell that, too! There is nothing like the odor of books. What’s funny our local Kaiser smells like a library. It’s awesome!



    Liked by 1 person

  25. LA_Kennedy says:

    I love the smell of books! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Lena says:

    I do love that smell. And to me a good smell means a good memory!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. rainruffles says:

    Woww…I love your thoughts..I love you , books..and I love you too!!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I like the smell of books, but I will always need both types. E-readers definitely have their place, I wouldn’t be able to get in reading time on many days if I didn’t have that format. Reading physical books sometimes feels like a luxury.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. LisaDay says:

    It’s a valid point about how books have evolved and how we hold on to what we loved. I will be holding on to the print copy forever. I hate reading on a screen – more than I do of course. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I loved that book when I read it many years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Fatima says:

    Stories really do take us places our feet can’t. Also, apparently there are candles which have the scent of old books, who knew?!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Bhagyashree says:

    Interesting read! However I would like to say there are some people in the next generation who would never succumb to reading on tablets when given the option of “real” books.
    I hope you are doing well in such tumultuous times! 🌸

    Liked by 1 person

  32. A Jaded Geek says:

    Sadly, I caved in too and bought a Kindle. But I never miss to buy a real book. Not just for the stories, but for the smell of it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  37. OMGeepers, the BEST smell ever. I try to only buy new books, but some of the older books in the library, etc. smell good too. I do also have a Kindle, but simply for my Book Marketing Books because I still love holding a printed book. Blessings and honor, Christine C Sponsler

    Liked by 1 person

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