Bibliosmia-The Charm of Old Book Smell

Satyakam Ray

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

Considering 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 store manager caught the author red-handed. Not a shameful activity, but indeed a joyful childish me-too moment. There will be more readers worldwide who can acknowledge their Bibliosmia me-too moments. Isn’t that thrilling?

More about Bibliosmia:

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 their friends, trusted companions, or even their religion are habituated to going through the nitty-gritty of their much-awaited book. The book cover, the author’s preface, the content page, and a few pages are all cherished quickly. That’s the true hallmark of a prolific reader. But one thing makes the reader unique- the ability to smell the wisdom by sniffing! Not just the smell of the pages, the ink used in printing – the wholesome experience of Bibliosmia is unparalleled. 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 yellowish, it emits a more intense scent. Sometimes, the book’s previous owner leaves behind a sense of personal touch to the Bibliosmia for the current owner to experience. It can be the smell of a rose (romanticism), some random perfume smell, or the acrid sting of cigarettes. These Bibliosmia experiences can only be found in old books, mainly in abandoned old bookstores. The lives of a generation gone can be felt subtly through a book’s random pages just by sniffing! As if the Bibliosmia gives access to the other side of the spectrum in history.

Comparison with the Kindle?

The advent of the eBook and various digital means of reading gives traditional books cut-throat competition. Some authors are also issuing audiobooks for easy access to readers. Many feel it’s doomsday for book publications in general regarding 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 scientific reason behind it?

What causes the smell of books to be 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 decay, these substances make the Paper yellowish, which is the primary cause of the smell. The older the book, the better the scent. The deterioration of the book adds a more addictive aroma to the pages.

Emotional connection with readers?

Not only can the scientific basis justify the pursuit of Bibliosmia, but this precious secret pleasure of bibliophiles can be described as a therapeutic session. Be the somber, dolorous moment or the monotony of the mundane, a slight 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 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, to 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 significant role in that aspect.

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