I am a book sniffer. The older, the better. Perhaps that is part of why I chose to work in a library. I love the smell of books.
Now, I didn’t get hired at an old library. It was new when I started. You could say it and I started at the same time. It is now 13 years old and the books are just starting to smell pleasant. Fortunately we are part of a system and we get old books in on hold all the time. Every now and then there will be a special one.
A good book smells like fall leaves raked into a pile. It smells like the pile of leaves after you have jumped into it.
A good book smells a bit like vanilla pound cake, fresh out of the oven and cooling on the windowsill.
A good book smells faintly of pipe smoke from your grandfather, while he is warming up by the fire after coming in from the rain. He is sitting in a soft worn leather armchair, wearing his tweed jacket. It is a little bit of all these smells.
A good book smells comfortable and friendly. These smells are the smells of safety and home.
There was a coworker once who shared my love of smelling books. When we’d find one, we’d share it. We’d take the book in our hands, admire the cover and the patina of age on the pages, open it up and have a good sniff.
The branch manager saw us doing this once and openly wondered about our mental health. But, then again, she never read a book to our knowledge.
Now, not all books smell good. Some smell of feet, and cat spray, and the sad sickly smell of too many medicines and ointments and not enough fresh air. Way too many books smell like cheap cigarettes.
But it is the good smelling books that I cherish.
How can you spot a potentially good-smelling book? Covers like this are a sure thing. The original covers have been taken off and the book has been rebound in this amazing stuff. It is beyond the hardness of a hardback. This kind of stuff is going to last forever.
The spines are embossed, either in gold or silver.
The edge of the book looks like this. Note the worn nature and the color.
The corner edge is rounded. That is always a nice touch.
All these different bits point to really old books. That is what you are looking for. Smell the edge, and if that is OK, then open it up and smell the gutter (the inside, opposite the spine) of the book.
Modern books with their fancy ink and high quality paper just won’t do. You are looking for old books with old-fashioned paper.