There’s a lady at work who smells books.
I relate to this enormously, but it’s so much her thing, so idiosyncratic, that I feel like I can’t admit to my own olfactory enjoyment of the printed page. I’ve occasionally been caught sniffing a particularly pungent book in the staffroom, but I feel like I’m treading on her territory, so I mostly keep quiet.
But I love the smell of new books. Even when I don’t like the specific smell, I love the fact that it does smell; that it’s rich in a dimension that was never intended.
When I was little, I had several Meg and Mog books. The pages had a distinct earthy scent, dense and cleanly natural. Occasionally I find this smell in other books, and suddenly I find I remember not only the stories but the situations in which I might have read them: sitting on a pastel green beanbag, for example (which also had a distinct smell) or on the carpet in the big bedroom that later became my brothers’.
The way books smell is something I enjoy for its own pleasure, but I love the gateways it gives me to lost memory. A few weeks ago, for example, I half-remembered another book I read as a child, about a cow that fell in a river on its way to a cheese market. This is a story I’d completely forgotten, but the smooth and slightly sugary smell in the pages of the book I was holding unlocked the memory for me: from nowhere, I remembered the pictures; part of the story; the fact that my mum didn’t like it.
Sometimes, I feel like I have a super power.
Monkey by Kieran Hazell (www.ownbeat.co.uk)