NUDGE: Book Smells







Apparently designer Karl Lagerfeld is launching a new fragrance that smells like books. Books in general or old books? It isn’t clear. Lagerfeld’s publisher, Steidl, provided both printed and unprinted paper to the expert who is developing the fragrance, which is to be called “Paper Passion.” Packaging will replicate a hollowed-out hardback book, a tribute to the old practice of hiding a bottle of liquor in a hollow tome.

I have a very limited sense of smell, or at least of conscious smell; hold something under my nose and I probably won’t pick up a scent, much less be able to identify it. Consequently, I don’t respond to a book smell. My sister, though, is crazy about the smell of old books. In fact, she likes to get a couple of vintage books for Christmas because the holiday doesn’t seem complete without the unique fragrance of a volume that’s been around for a few decades.

Last year I edited an article about how to get the smell of cigarette smoke out of old books, and I’ve read people’s complaints about mustiness and even allergy problems due to the dust of old books. I don’t know if new books have a separate type of smell or whether that’s what Lagerfeld is going for with “Paper Passion.” Even though I’ve had problems with my olfactory sense throughout most of my life, I do remember the smell of freshly mimeographed pages in school. Maybe inhaling mimeograph ink, nail polish remover, and smelling salts from these little capsules my mother got in a goody bag from the PTA card party is what destroyed my ability to identify fragrances.

Prompt: Write about the smell of books, old or new. Your impressions can be positive, negative, or both. Be specific about the characteristics of the fragrance (or odor), and address what you like or hate about the smell(s). Stretch beyond the obvious descriptions. If you can link the smells to a memory or experience, such as my sister’s love of old book smells on Christmas, add that to your writing.

If you prefer, zero in on a specific book: a gift, a find at an antique store, a treasure uncovered in the attic. Use smell as a trigger, but do continue to write about other details and impressions as they come to you.


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