The Smell of a Book.
BY Teddy Wayne
I know e-readers are all the rage, but I’ll never get one. Call me a Luddite, but there’s something irreplaceable about a printed book: the heft of it in your hands, the striking cover, and, most important to me, its smell.
I fondly recall hiding under the covers after lights-out as a kid, Hardy Boys mystery in one hand and flashlight in the other, escaping into the adventures of Frank and Joe through the portal of the pages’ woodsy scent as I deeply inhaled the trapped, bookish air inside my blanket. In high school and college, I went on to discover many of my longstanding favorites: spare, economical bouquets from Hemingway, elegant perfumes of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age, the smoke swirling around a Chandler potboiler (my guilty pleasure!).
And now, as an adult, I love nothing more than curling up with a good book, closing my eyes, breathing in through my nostrils, keeping my eyes closed and not reading yet continuing to draw in oxygen for hours, and, thanks to my fetishized olfactory associations for printed and bound matter, becoming sexually aroused.
Indeed, nothing is more of a turn-on than receiving a thoughtful book as a gift. On a related note, I have found that only through the pervading odor of a postmodern tome can I achieve orgasm. I don’t even particularly like the postmodernists’ work—too cerebrally opaque for my taste—but the smell of their writing, it just…
Why am I compulsively flicking this lighter? Oh, right—I also occasionally indulge in “book-sniffing,” a new recreational-drug activity yet to be outlawed by the government, in which pages of hardcovers (first-edition deckle-edged is the best) are ground up into a fine powder, sifted for impurities obtained during printing, deposited onto a spoon, cooked over a flame, mixed into a spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol, and absorbed as a mist through the nasal mucosa. The effect is an intense, ten-second hallucinogenic high, after which the user immediately craves more and will stop at nothing to get it. Book-sniffing also tends to arouse me, especially if the source material is a canonized 19th-century work of fiction. One of the most erotic experiences of my life remains book-sniffing, in a Bangkok hotel room, by myself, the Dutch translation of Crime and Punishment while rolling around on a bed of loose pages from Gravity’s Rainbow.
Maybe clicking on a link to download digital text is enough for you, but I believe there’s no substitute for wandering into an off-the-beaten-path bookstore, browsing its thoughtful employee recommendations, running my nose along the Barth/Barthelme/Beckett/Borges/Brecht/Burroughs aisle while fondling myself under my Penguin Classic tote bag, then ducking into the restroom with Middlemarch and a complement of grinding and sifting tools as I reach climax. Please support your local independent bookstores, especially those with lockable restrooms.
Okay, I’ll come clean: I need to score some books to sniff. I’m going through withdrawal. A few days ago I OD’d on some bad shit—my bookseller told me it was late-period Nabokov, but I’m pretty sure it was The Da Vinci Code cut with a mass-market paperback Danielle Steel. I tried to go cold turkey and recycled my whole collection, but I just need a little something. I swear, I can quit sniffing books anytime. Anything you got, it doesn’t matter: remaindered debut novels, B-list-celebrity memoirs, self-published romance. Hell, I’d even take a poetry chapbook by an MFA candidate with a twee second-person title.
C’mon, man, help me out—I know you’re holding some books, stashed inside that cosmopolitan messenger bag. No, I can’t go to the library. They confiscated my card, after yesterday’s incident in the stacks with Heart of Darkness.
Just couldn’t help myself. I love the smell of novellas in the morning.
Teddy Wayne is on tour for his new novel, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. For his schedule (which includes this Friday, 2/22 at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA with Tendency editor Chris Monks), click here.
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