“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 generation). 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.
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.