Photo: Dean Moriarty. Source: Pixabay
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.
Old paper releases distinctive odors as it breaks down, notably lignin, which produces a vanilla scent when it decomposes. Different 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 and pine to them. It’s even possible to date a book by smelling it carefully. Scientists have identified dozens of volatile organic compounds produced by old paper.
This is one reason e-books can never wholly replace traditional paper books. Yes, I can easily increase the font size on my Kindle as my eyes get older, and I can also access and carry thousands of volumes in a device lighter than an old cardigan sweater. But a glass-and-plastic device will never have the romance of an old volume. It can’t exude the ambiance of the family library, even if they infuse lignin and rosin into the simulated leather cover.
Our world is more digitized and with more digital data all the time. It’s important, though, to remember what makes it human. Even though they’re heavy and dusty and fragile, old books will always part of a truly civilized world.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”