Bibliosmia-The Charm of Old Book Smell

Satyakam Ray

Bibliosmia is the concept where the book lovers directly sniff off from the pages by keeping the book very close to the nostrils. Though this sweet but weird activity is limited to bibliophiles, still practiced worldwide. From the lonely second-hand bookstores across the globe to the sophisticated libraries, evidence of Bibliosmia can be found everywhere. It’s unknown that when this concept got wider attention and from how long this practice is being followed, but the practice has got its way into the urban jargon.

Taking into account personal experience, the author has a fond memory of Bibliosmia. In a Hyderabad crossword store, the author’s usual go-to place for stress-free solitude, while doing the precious Bibliosmia blithely, the author was caught red-handed by the store manager. Not a shameful activity for sure, but certainly a kind of jovial childish me-too moment. There will be more readers worldwide who can acknowledge their Bibliosmia me-too moments. Isn’t that thrilling?

The main question arises – why do people do it anyway? Is it a precursor to judging or buying the book? Or it’s just a childish notion? Bibliophiles who consider the book as their friends, trusted companions, or even as the religion, are habituated with going through the nitty-gritty of their much-awaited book. The book cover, author’s preface, the content page, and a few pages here and there – all are cherished within a quick time. That’s the true hallmark of a prolific reader. But one thing makes the reader so special- the ability to smell the wisdom just by sniffing! Not just the smell of the pages, the ink used in printing – the wholesome experience of Bibliosmia is unparallel. It’s like the smell of the grass and land after the first rain, which can’t be described in words-only can be felt.

The emotions running through the heart after the pangs of Bibliosmia are priceless. Every book has its unique smell. As the book becomes old and the pages become yellowish, it emits a more intense smell. Sometimes, the previous owner of the book leaves behind a sense of personal touch to the Bibliosmia for the current owner to experience. It can be a smell of a rose (the romanticism), some random perfume smell, or the acrid sting of cigarettes. These types of Bibliosmia experiences can be found in old books only, mostly in abandoned old book stores. The lives of a generation gone can be felt very subtly through the random pages of a book just by sniffing! As if the Bibliosmia gives access to the other side of the spectrum in history.

The advent of the eBook and various digital means of reading (example-kindle) gives the traditional books cut-throat competition. Some authors are also issuing audiobooks for easy access to the books. Many feel it’s the doomsday for the book publications in general in terms of profits. But, the resistance to the onslaught of eBooks can be attained by reminding the readers of the essence of Bibliosmia. The purists may argue that even if kindle can give easy access to an innumerable number of books to browse through, it can’t simply replace the charm of Bibliosmia from paper-bind books. So much of personality is left unattended just by using a kindle and it’s a sacrilege in the minds of pure bibliophiles.

What causes the smell of the books so addictive? Bibliosmia or book-smell is caused by the chemical breakdown of compounds within the paper. The Paper contains cellulose and lignin. As the paper undergoes decaying, these substances make the paper yellowish, which is the major cause of the smell. The older the book, the better is the smell. The decaying of the book adds a more addictive aroma to the pages.

Not just the scientific basis can justify the pursuit of Bibliosmia, but this precious secret pleasure of bibliophiles can be described as a type of therapeutic session. Be the somber dolorous moment or the monotony of mundane, a small pang of Bibliosmia can reinvigorate the dying soul. Beyond the influence of an exterior materialistic world, the soul of a bibliophile focuses more on its constant purification. Bibliosmia allures for more reading habits and in a way helps the bibliophile to achieve the objective.

The younger generation of readers (people belonging to gen Z) should imbibe the book reading habit mostly the traditional paper-bound ones so that they can experience the Bibliosmia first hand. The lost art of book reading amid the digital jungle of gadgets should be revived and the charming Bibliosmia can play a major role in that aspect.

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