Subliminally Stoking a Hunger: the Scent of a Book

Love the smell of old books? Kristen Twardowski  can tell you why.

Kristen Twardowski


For many of us, the scent of a book represents windows into innumerable worlds. Chemists have tried to translate this experience and have described books as smelling grassy and acidic with hints of vanilla and mustiness.

However, that combination of scents does not simply arise through happenstance.

Traditionally printed books produce those smells as a result of the paper, ink, and glue that compose them. In their book Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez discuss this more eloquently, stating:

“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. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.”

In addition…

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