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Home / Books / Scents and sensibility

Scents and sensibility

Column- Sometimes odour can overpower the content of a book, writes Piyush Jha

books Updated: Sep 06, 2019 13:40 IST
Piyush Jha
Piyush Jha
Hindustan Times
Pretty woman enjoin coffee
Pretty woman enjoin coffee(Getty Images)

Recently the wife and I got into an argument about why she likes paper-books over ebooks. Turns out that she likes the way paper-books smell and hence chooses to buy them instead of the super-convenient ebooks. When it concerns books, smell, has never been a deciding factor for me. So, I did some asking around and discovered that almost all my bibliophile friends love the smell of books! The first thing that many book-lovers do, is to crack open a book, stick their nose between the pages and take in a deep sniff.

There is even a term for the smell of books- Bibliosmia.

Oddly, while some people like the crackling, almost perfume-like scent of crisp new pages, others even like the musty aroma of old books.

Call it the aroma or the scent, it is actually the smell emanating from the chemical reactions between a mixture of the cellulose and lignin from the wood pulp, the adhesives used in the binding, and all the chemicals from the inks that go into making a book. The chemicals react to heat, light, and water and over time give off identifiable smells that we already like in nature. Ethylbenzene has a sweet smell, ethyl-hexanol has a floral scent, furfural has an almond-like smell, and vanillin is, of course, the smell of vanilla.

But, what is this Bibliosmia really like? Matija Strlic, a scientist who conducted a research study on the smell of old books describes the smell as: “A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.”

Some enterprising marketers have taken note of this love of Bibliosmia. To help people with e-book readers, they’ve introduced book-smelling aerosols sprays, and candles that readers can light, to give them the smell of a paper-book while reading e-books. The aromas range from “new book smell’ to ‘classic musty book’.

Taking things a notch higher up the Bibliosmia ladder, now there are even some bottled body-perfumes like Paper Passion, Paperback, and the simply branded, Book. You can use these to smell like books and perhaps make yourself desirable to a book-lover. Normally, instead of Bibliosmia, I would call this Biblios-mania. But, with the wife weighing in heavily in favour of book-fragrance, I guess it’s time for me to wake up and smell the book, and go shopping for a bottle for myself!

( Piyush Jha is a contemporary storyteller who practises his craft by directing films and writing books.)