Wednesday 11 June 2014


A friend of mine refers to me, somewhat disparagingly, as a paper-sniffer, because I haven't switched from print to e-books. This is actually less because I'm fetishistic about the nature of print publications than because e-readers still feel to me like 'work' reading - it's because of the one-page-at-a-time layout, which reminds me irresistibly of photocopies for tutorials, reports for reviewing, or documents for proofreading. Two pages facing each other are leisure reading: one page squarely in front of me maybe be informative, important, interesting, but it is still something that has got to be gotten through, not something to enjoy.

You can't escape the discussion of the ongoing allure of the printed book if you hang about on the web or with publishing types though. If you're interested in perfume as well, this is doubled. I even own L'Artisan's Dzing!, meant to evoke circus tents and excitement. Luca Turin and Tanya Sanchez spot it admirably though: vanilla cardboard

Olivia Giacobetti is here at her imaginative, humorous best, and Dzing! is a masterpiece. Dzing! smells of paper, and you can spend a good while trying to figure out whether it is packing cardboard, kraft wrapping paper, envelopes while you lick the glue, old books, or something else. I have no idea whether this was the objective, but I have few clues as to why it happened. Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good-quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us. 

And if you want to grok that book-to-scent magic even more scientifically, you can check out this guide to contributing compounds to 'old book smell'.

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