By Anupum Pant
Note: Since I’ve been getting quite a lot of visitors on this blog now, I think it would make sense to imbue a conversational tone in my posts. At least with enough readers, I won’t feel as if I’m talking to the air. So, instead of just creating a repository for archived trivia, I’ll take freedom to write my blogs in a more personal way from now on. You’ll have to wait for comments though (Tomorrow I’ll tell you why). Till then, you can get in touch through my about page.
The state of reading
No longer does a major chunk of human population has the drive or patience to go through a long chain of black letters. Instead, we prefer a stream of individual quick-visual-gags (memes). Others like to listen to audio books while they are slashing fruits on their smart-phones; some others like to ‘read’ info-graphics instead of blog posts.
A blog post without images is quickly discarded as an uninteresting one (like mine). Nevertheless, I believe, among those billions of people on the internet now, there is a tiny chunk of people who like to read. And a tinier part of that tiny chunk of people have come here to read this. I salute you. Salute me back on twitter.
That said, I’m not against info-graphics. I love them too. Also, it doesn’t mean I’m against audio books or memes.
So, if you’ve read past the two paragraphs above, I can safely assume, you are one of those who like to read. And I think we’ll connect well if I state – There is nothing like the smell of an old book; or a fresh book for some. Both ways, I think it makes sense to book lovers.
The smell according to experts
Unike Petrichor, the smell of old books does not have a specific name but you could call it “musty” in a good way. Experts need a much more detailed phrase to communicate the subjective experience. Back in 2009, the lead scientist who looked into what actually caused the smell described it as:
A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness. [Source]
The pleasant aromatic smell is due to aromatic compounds emitted mainly from papers made from ground wood which are characterized by their yellowish-brown color. They emit vanilla-like, sweetly fragrant vanillin, aromatic anisol and benzaldehyde, with fruity almond-like odor. On the other hand, terpene compounds, deriving from rosin, which is used to make paper more impermeable to inks, contribute to the camphorous, oily and woody smell of books. A mushroom odour is caused by some other, intensely fragrant aliphatic alcohols. [Source]
What causes the book scent
A typical “old book” smell is a mixture of fragrant volatile substances and does not comprise of any single compound. So, all books do not smell the same, as materials and printing inks vary from book to book.
As a book ages, a compound called Lignin that makes up the cell walls of wood used to make paper, starts breaking down. It releases a smell that is a lot similar to Vanilla. In fact this is the same compound that makes Vanilla smell like Vanilla. This smell is a major contributor among several other scents that make up the characteristic book scent.
Other factors that may cause the scent to vary could be due to the kind of ink and chemicals used to process the paper.
Bring it home
It is a good thing for book worms who just can’t stop smelling their books. A creative enterprise, Lucky scent, sells it in a bottle – Paper Passion perfume – sold here.
Another company CafeScribe shipped “musty-smelling” scratch-and-sniff stickers with every eBook order. I’m not sure if they still do it. This was around 6 years back.
Disclaimer: I’m in no way related to the above products, they aren’t affiliate links.