Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Noses of the World, Unite!

I won't complain about the weather of the week just past. I'll say only that it forced us to rely on central air conditioning. The dog needed it, and the books needed it, too. My loved ones deserved a breather from the boiling evil treacle that passed for air.

Air conditioning can be a life saver, and it gave Phoebe and me comfort and sanity, the ability to get on with the business of books. I moved herbs that were baking on the balcony inside near the cold air vents. Soon fresh garden scents compensated for the cheerless drone and cooped-up feeling that makes air conditioning my least favorite convenience.

Phoebe perked up. I no longer heard mold creeping out of the baseboards, conspiring against our books. (Mold is a silent invader, I know; all credit for my hallucination goes to the weather.)

One afternoon Phoebe and I spent sniffing books. These were a few recent acquisitions whose cataloging wouldn't be complete until we had stuck our noses in their gutters. How books looks, how they feel when held for the long haul of reading, how they behave when their pages are turned are no more important than how they smell. Would odor be part of the description of any of these books? In stating condition, a dealer wants to be thorough and objective. Saying that a book has an odor meets the objectivity standard, but how to rate the smell? It's as personal as our individual noses, and the power of association, like preferring roses to lilacs or disliking camphor more than garlic. A book with an aroma may offend one person and not the next. Hence my dedication to destinking. I'll describe what, if anything, I smell and hope it helps people make a decision about an afflicted book.

Perhaps what the trade needs is a Biblio-Olfactory Board (aka The Nose-It-Alls) to rate our professional book smell senses and establish some criteria and standardized terminology, as well as a scratch-sniff-and-match tool kit (just what booksellers are waiting for!), yuck-factor guidelines (great consumer potential, with sponsorship from leading destink product manufacturers), smell-dispute arbitration panels (coming soon to your neighborhood!), and a curling team that will triumph at the next Winter Olympics. The board could also acknowledge that nothing uniform, much less universal, can be done about the problem, but we're still doing our best. Having engaged in dog-assisted book sniffing for some 15 years, I'm eager to chair the committee on canines.

I told Phoebe all about it. She wasn't buying it, but led me back to the potential reverie of books refreshed. We sniffed. The newcomers had been given a gentle surface cleaning before spending several days in the care of our stinky book box Buzet and a few more resting in the wider world on a book rack with plenty of fresh air circulating around them. Among these old titles there had been one that crossed my eyes and made Phoebe turn away; the others had smelled merely stale and were now inoffensive. That one real stinker had recovered; it smelled like a book, old but friendly to the senses. Phoebe and I were so pleased that we sat down side by side and leafed through it. Ten days ago that book would not have been what it was now, a good companion, almost as sweet as a dachshund. It's a book that will make someone else happy when it's sold and moves on to a new home. I hope the new owners have a dog.


  1. Congratulations on the favorable attention given this blog in quality media like Shelf-Awareness,The Bark, Fine Books, Book Source Magazine, etc.

  2. Just found this blog (from The Bark) and love it! NYC, Books, Dogs, Fine Writing - what more could one want? So glad you started it & looking forward to following along!