Reading Through the Senses

Kate - Dearborn Heights, Michigan
Entered on April 26, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe in the smell of a book. There is something about the clean, crisp pages combined with fresh ink, or the worn yellowed pages of a classic favorite that makes a book so invigorating, inviting, curious, and full of knowledge.

I never thought of a book’s smell until a few years ago I was at a local bookstore with a friend one chilly, autumn night. We were in the store a mere half an hour and I already had collected numerous books that I wanted to read, mostly from the travel section. I found my friend in the world history section, fingering books about the Far East, pulling each one off the shelf to read its dust jacket. Secretly, standing at the end of the aisle, I watched him pull book after book off the shelf, read the summary, and gently place the ones that sparked an interest next to him on the floor. Once a deep pile of books were strewn across the floor, he flipped open each book to the middle and inhaled deeply.

Later that evening, while we were looking through our new purchases and trying to decide which would be read first, I broke down and finally asked him why he was smelling the books in the store. Sometimes I can be picky about a book’s design, font size or cover art, but the smell? Who cares about the way the book smells?

He explained to me that a book was like a glass of wine – a complete journey through the five senses. With a glass of wine, one smells the dry aroma, sees the deep burgundy coloring, hears the clinking of a toast, touches the cool, crystal stemware, and tastes the smooth liquid running across their tongue. He assured me though, that he didn’t actually taste the books.

He suggested that I try it for myself. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in each of my three books. I was intrigued with what I found. The first had a clear, musty smell, another smelled like fresh air and the third had a deep smell of expensive paper. Despite their differing smells, in each I could not help but feeling a desire for knowledge, an excitement of discovery, and a breath of fresh air. For a destined lifelong learner like myself, a book is the gateway to the world, and its smell is just one part of that journey.

It’s now a few years later and I still think the smell of a book brings out a unique euphoric high. Every time I sit down to reread the next chapter from the worn copy of my favorite book, pull out one of my textbooks, or purchase a new book from the local bookstore, I am reminded of that simple, yet important enlightenment.

Now, I don’t only see a book’s cover design, feel the smooth pages and raised ink, hear the words flowing off the pages, but I can also smell the invitation to knowledge in the pages. Not only does a book share knowledge with its readers, it guides them on a reading journey through their senses.