Monday, January 27, 2014

Revisiting the Science Behind "Good Book Smell"

It's almost been a year since I discussed the rivalry between old-school books (not to be confused with old schoolbooks) and e-readers such as Kindle and Nook.*  In the elapsed time I've read a lot of discussions of that topic on book blog sites and other social media.  Interestingly, one of the most common reasons for the Old School faction to prefer "real" books is "the old book smell."  

Of course, the proponents for e-readers often say this is poppycock.  I would submit to such skeptics these three things:

1. This article by Scientopia on the science of "old book smell."

2. This other article by Mental Floss on the same topic.

3.  The fact that if it's such poppycock, then e-reader marketers are being a bit shady in selling aerosol fragrances to duplicate it: 

I've already made clear that I believe books have a distinctive and wonderful smell.  Walk into an old bookshop and take a whiff.  Yep, it smells like books.  And before some e-reader fanatic comes along and says "Well maybe the smell is real, so what?  It's not as important as being able to carry around 500 books in your purse," let me just remind everyone that smell is a very powerful sense.  As this entry from "Psych Your Mind" talks about, It's strangely connected to memory, in that you can smell something as a child and then one sniff of it as an adult can transport you back years to the events and emotions you felt at the time.  

For me, the smell of books brings back fond memories of digging through piles of old discarded library books with my mom and siblings every summer.  Even a musty book (which, by the way, can be remedied with a Stinky Book Box**) or one infused with noxious cigar smoke brings back memories of when my dad brought home my first copies of the Sherlock Holmes stories (much as I disliked the tobacco smell, I just held my breath and pretended that Holmes himself had got all the books stinky with his constant smoking).

*Those discussions being buried under a year of blog entries, you can find them here and here.

**The instructions on how to make your own Stinky Book Box are outlined in The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers by Margot Rosenberg and Bern Marcowitz.  Basically it involves a box and lots of those mini evergreen Christmas tree car hanger thingies (okay obviously I didn't know what they were called, so I had to look them up just now.  Their proper name is Magic Trees Air Fresheners).  There also are several alternative suggestions on this forum of LibraryThing.  I need to eventually make one of these, and once I do maybe I'll have more authority to blog about them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Author Spotlight: Arthur Conan Doyle

As you may have noticed from previous posts, I’m a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan.  Okay, fine, I’m a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan, and will watch pretty much anything related to the Great Detective, be it movie, miniseries, documentary or Wishbone episode.  Yet more generally, I am a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing as a whole.  Of course I began reading Holmes’ and Watson’s adventures for the characters and mysteries, but as I’ve grown older and more experienced in reading classic fiction…it turns out Doyle is pretty great on the merit of his own literary style.  Arthur Conan Doyle is one of the few authors whose books I will buy indiscriminately, even if I haven’t read the book yet. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

H. Rider Haggard's "Allan Quatermain" Books

Somehow 2014 snuck up on me (though I was TOTALLY on top of Christmas this year…I just didn't look ‘round the corner to New Year’s) and I've found myself with a stack of books I've finished but still need to review. So with no more ado, here’s one of them:

I've been slowly reading H. Rider Haggard’s famous Victorian adventures, focusing on the series following the exploits of Allan Quatermain for now, though I’ll move on to other classic “penny dreadful” books such as She soon enough. I chose to start with the Quatermain novels because I’d heard of him as a child, watching Richard Chamberlain’s movie adaptation of King Solomon’s Mines with my parents and thinking it was the bees’ knees. (Sometimes I wonder if I was an odd little girl; instead of princesses—who are wonderful in their own way, I guess—I loved to read books which made me imagine drums in distant jungles, which is why Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was my favorite bedtime story and why even today I love sensational tales taking place in Deepest Darkest Africa.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Michael Largo’s “The Big Bad Book of Beasts”

If it hadn’t involved a nauseating amount of math, I might have become a zoologist.  I’ve always been an animal lover (“Life is too short not to pet a kitty/doggie” is my excuse for spoiling my pets), and read Zoobooks magazines from cover-to-cover so often that it was actually a good thing when they started sending reprints (“reruns” as they seemed to me) because I invariably read them into ribbons.  When other kids were taping* television cartoons, I insisted on taping Nova documentaries on meerkats.  Or Kratts Kreatures, which made up for its badly spelt title by talking about aardvarks. 

Time hasn’t changed this interest.**  I may not be a marine biologist snorkeling with dolphins somewhere, but I can at least enjoy reading about fascinating animals from the comfort of my own home.  Therefore you should not be surprised if, from time to time, I review the latest book I’ve read on the historical discovery of gorillas (Between Man and Beast by Monte Reel) or photojournals documenting the revival of wolf packs in America (The Hidden Life of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher). 

One of my latest zoological literary splurges was to check out The Big Bad Book of Beasts from my local library.  Based on the “bestiary” books of antiquity, Michael Largo outlines the life cycles, strange features, and mythological beliefs of all sorts of animals—real, ancient, and imagined.