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The Smell of Old Books

The smell of old books is a wonderful thing. Science says that they smell of vanilla flowers and almonds, from the breakdown of the chemical compounds in the paper. They contain toluene and ethyl benzene, which make them smell sweet. They contain vanillin, which make them smell like vanilla. They contain 2-ethyl hexanol, which makes them smell floral. They contain benzaldehyde and furfural, which make them smell like almonds. All these factors add together to create the wonderful smell that pours out of an old book when you open it up.

But the smell of old books is so much more than that.

When you open up a book that has been opened by hundreds of people before you, that has been around for hundreds of years, you can smell their stories. You can smell the story of the small boy learning how to read, of the slave girl reading by the dim candlelight as she skives off her work, of the elderly librarian who had just found it in the archives, of the overworked mother who read it whenever she got a break. You can smell the history of it as you hold it in your hands.

You can smell the fields of green glass that the boy loved to play in. You can smell the banquet that the slave girl should have been preparing. You can smell the dust on the shelves that were too high up for the librarian to dust. You can smell the perfume of the mother that she sprayed all over herself to cover up for the fact that she didn’t have time for a shower.

You can smell the adoring love the boy felt for his father, who ever so patiently sat with him and taught him how to read. You can smell the sadness the girl experienced when she thought of her family in a far off country that she had been snatched from years ago to become a slave of the king. You can smell the fear of the elderly librarian that she would never get to see her grandchildren all grown up. You can smell the worry of the mother that she wasn’t good enough for her children, that they didn’t love her like she loved them.

An old book is so much more than some ink on paper; it’s so much more than that single story held within. There are hundreds of stories held within that smell, preserved for as long as the book is around. No matter what book it is, where it has come from, that book has a history that cannot be properly described in words. So just remember, although an iPad or a kindle may be more practical, the true experience of reading comes from an old book.


Source of the science stuff: x


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