November 4, 2011

The smell of old books: explained


I know, I know, I said it was maddeningly predictable to talk about the smell of old books, but perhaps I should have qualified that: it’s not when you’ve gone and discovered the whole reason it sends most humans into a state of eye-rolling, tongue-lolling bliss. The Fiction Writers’ Review fills us in:


Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good.

It was widely reported earlier this year that Karl Lagerfeld was planning a perfume based on the smell of old books. A suggestion, for those wanting to head off truly maddeningly predictable rants about ebooks and their failings: equip yourself with a bottle of this and douse liberally on an iPad cover. With that taken care of, you’ll be free to talk about the more interesting sides of the paper/print debate.

Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.