I’ll try being nicer if you try being smarter!

I recently bought a Kindle. I LOVE it. I do. I can take it out and not have to search for my page while I wait for the bus, it weighs nothing and nobody can ever rip out that important page. It’s a perfect solution for travelling, when you don’t know how many books you’ll need, or if you’ll get bored and want to do a book polygamy thing and read a few different ones at once. It’s great and I adore it and I use it every day.


It has no smell. It has no character. Nobody has written definitions in the margins, or underlined any passages that made them stop and think. There’s no way I can accidentally stain a page with coffee or pasta sauce and I can’t dog ear my favourite parts.
Sure, I can make electronic notes of my favourite parts, and have them all conveniently listed together in a file. But? I don’t care. I don’t want them listed in a file. I want to forget about them and rediscover them when I re-read the book and remember why that particular line mattered to me at that particular time.

Is there anything in the world better than the smell of a book?
If you are a nerd like me, then you know the answer is no. There isn’t.
Except……the smell of an old book. Nothing really smells better with age….but books dont’ follow that rule. The older the book, the more amazing the scent. Apparently it has something to do with decomposition and VOC’s, but those don’t sound nearly as romantic as ‘old book smell’. I’d prefer to believe that it’s the combination of all the places the book has been, all the people who’ve read it, the mustiness from sitting in a box somewhere for years. It’s way nicer to think it’s the absorption of the smells of time rather than the inevitable corrosion and breaking down of the paper and ink.

When I was little, I’d go to visit and stay with my grandparents (both sets lived in the same town 2 and a half hours away). A bibliophile from an early age, I’d haul along as many books as my tiny arms could carry. My mom would drop my brother and I off at the bus station in our city, and it would make the milk run through every tiny town and village before pulling into our final stop, making the 2 and a half hour distance more like 3 and a half hours. My brother would have run out the batteries on his handheld video games or whatever, but I was just happily finishing up a book when my grandma was there to pick us up.

After I’d settled in, my grandma would always take me to the same used book store downtown and buy me several old Nancy Drew books.

Always Nancy Drew, always used. I’d try to find ones that had old messages written in the front cover. People’s names and old addresses or phone numbers would be listed, or an Aunt would wish her niece a happy ‘X’th birthday and date it with the year.

My grandma also had a set of children’s books from when my mom would have been a kid, in the spare room that I stayed in. I’ve never smelled books as good as those ones. I have distinct memories of sitting in front of the two shelf bookshelf, opening and closing the books to hear the spines crack and to have that old papery smell waft up to me. I have no idea where those books went, and I’m almost scared to ask. I don’t think I could handle it if I found out they hit the trash or got donated to a Goodwill. I hope they’re in a box somewhere, waiting for me to adopt them.

My Kindle is white. With grey writing on the buttons. Sure, it’s modern and sleek and makes me look oh-so-techno-chic, but it lacks a lot in terms of the beauty of old books. Hell, even new books, but most especially old ones.

Old books just look so gorgeous to me. There’s no paperbacks, and they all had such simple, primary coloured spines with basic font. I don’t know what the covers are made of, but they have a really distinct feeling to them on the fingertips.

And you know what I just remembered? Remember going to libraries and signing out books int he days before everything was computerized? You’d fill in the card with your name and they’d stamp the date that the book was due back. Once in a while in a used book store, you can find those old library books, cards still in their envelopes, and I love seeing different signatures and old dates.

All those in the know about the future of books are predicting that soon, we’ll all be Kindle (or equivalent) drones, reading our books on our electric screens, downloading the books in mere seconds off of satellites from space.

This kind of saddens me. For as a big of a proponent as I am for the Kindle (seriously, I love mine, go buy one), I still need my books. I still need to flip through them, and smell them, and collect them, and curse at their weight every time I move. I can’t imagine a whole upcoming generation not knowing what it is to crack the spine of a new book, or to be amazed at the age of an old one.

I get it, we can’t keep abusing resources unnecessarily and cranking out books, no matter what type of sustainably grown paper they’re printed on with vegetable inks, powered by low impact energy. I knoooooow. I see it inevitably marching to e-reader-ville. I just hope a balance can be struck.

And if not, then I really hope that these smell as good as they claim to smell.

I mean, it's not even OLD book smell

However, I’m no idiot. They’ll smell like crap. Trust me. I know things, I read books.


Comments on: "In which I geek out over ‘Old Book Smell’" (2)

  1. This is very encouraging Talea. Being a long time library lover, it’s nice to know that you young folks still appreciate the books, even while acknowledging the undeniable amazingness of reading tablets and other such gadgets. I don’t buy that books are destined for the scrap heap of history. But then, all my opinions and me are destined for the scrap heap of history … 😦

  2. Ha! I know things! I read books! As if you remembered that! As you know, my sister and I are 8 years apart and are very similar in a lot of ways, taste in books being one of them. So years after I had left our elementary school, she’d often take out a book and see my name on the card as someone who had taken it out before her. Loooooove that!!

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