Book ‘Em

Why do we love old books?

Photo: Diane Hope. Source: Morguefile

There’s something romantic to “old book smell.” It’s a kind of earthy, musty aroma of old leather and paper. Maybe the smell invokes trips to the library when you were a child. It’s quite attractive to many people. There are even high-end perfumes that try to mimic it.

Paper products release distinctive odors as they break down, notably lignin, which produces a vanilla-like scent as it decomposes. Various presses use different sources of paper which have particular characteristics. My old paperback copies of Lord of the Rings have a wonderful smell of birch or pine to them. It’s even possible to date a volume by smelling it. Scientists have identified dozens of volatile organic compounds produced by old paper.

It’s one reason I hope e-books never wholly replace traditional paper books. Yes, I can easily adjust the font size on my Kindle as my eyes get older, and yes, I can access and carry hundreds of volumes in a device lighter than a sweater. But a glass-and-plastic reader doesn’t entice me the way an old volume does. It can’t exude the ambiance of the family library, even if they infuse lignin and rosin into the simulated leather cover.

Photo: Gabor. Source: Morguefile

Our world gets more digitized and more accessible every day. It’s important, though, to remember what makes it truly humane. For me, old books will always be part of that picture.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

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