Sunday, October 14, 2007

That New Book Smell

I do a weird thing when I'm shelving new books at the bookstore: I crack them open and take a whiff. Every book smells subtly different; each has a different combination of chemically-gluey-inky-woody-plasticky-cardboard-boxy. Those smells are like time machines. Once in a while I smell a book that's exactly like an elementary school textbook, and for a moment I can see my old classrooms, and I remember how exciting a new textbook was and how its uncracked spine and glossy pages promised so much. Mass-market paperbacks have a particular bitter smell that goes with their rough pages; it makes me think of lying on the living room carpet when I was a teenager, reading The Amityville Horror. When I was a kid I didn't pay much attention to the smell of books or the feel of their spines or the quality of their paper, but I must have absorbed it all while reading. Now whenever I hold a book or smell a book I'm flooded with little half-memories of reading pleasure.

Both our sons like to read -- the older one reads pretty much anything but the younger one is a comic book aficionado. It's impossible to walk across his room with slipping on mounds of comics, everywhere. The other day when he finished his homework he said, "Hurray! Now I can go read my comic book!" and boy, did I envy him, to be able to get so much endlessly renewable pleasure out of reading. Because it's not like that for me so much anymore -- I'm too picky, too judgey, too easily disappointed. I wonder: is it possible to get it back, that ability to go from one book to the next indiscriminately, just pulling whatever enjoyment I can from every book?

I'm going to try, I think. For the next couple of weeks, anyway, until NaNoWriMo, I'm going to read as many novels as possible with an eye to just having fun. I'll skip the boring bits and not take any notes or even pause to come up with a cutting criticism. Part of the problem, of course, is that books are expensive, and it's easy to feel disappointed when you pay $27.00 for a novel that isn't great. So I'll have to get them from the library's mixed bag or borrow them from my store (and just be careful not to spill on them).

I think I'll start with An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England.

7 comments:

aos said...

When I used to be at the bookstore we used to pass around especially good or bad smelling books. The bad ones were much rarer.

5 Red Pandas said...

I think you made a good choice for your first pure enjoyment book. I liked it. It reminded me of Jonathan Ames's books but without the funny sex stuff. Still funny though.

jrlennon said...

Man, I go out to see a band for a few hours, and as soon as I'm out the door you start huffing books again.

sif said...

I smell books constantly. Sometimes when I'm reading one I'll stick my nose in it every minute or so complulsively. I did it once in a bookstore and two kids pointed and laugh. I am a fat retard.

Slimbolala said...

Have you detected any corollation between the smell and the literary content? Scent and prose style? Perhaps books can't be judged by their cover; but what about aroma? Do any just smell bad? Which ones?

rmellis said...

Good questions indeed. I'll have to extend my research.

Hugo Minor said...

Lately, I've been propping open a book next to me while I write, so that the smell of pages is there like a candle.