Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bookish Smells (a reprise)

I found this from the old blog archive today, and went to check on the smells. They haven't changed to much actually. Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, smells of cigarette smoke. Herbert McCabe, Law, Love and Language, smells of wax.
I got a book I have been waiting a long time for today. It has been shipped especially from India for me. Whenever I buy new books the first thing I do is smell them. The time has long since past that I could afford to buy many books first hand, and so mostly I collect second hand publications in good condition. The best thing about these books, when they first arrive is their smell. Paper takes on the odour of its surroundings very quickly, and mixes it with a dusty, musty smell all of its own. Weirdly, I often organize my bookshelf by smell - musty on the left, dusty on the right, smells of persil in the middle, hippy shop that burnt incense at the top, was left out in the rain and then dried on radiator at the bottom. There is a special place on my bookshelf for Adam Bede (George Eliott), which was kept in the kitchen of a student flat full of heavy drinking, drug taking, under graduate smokers (all my friends), got Vimto spilled on it, was dried out in the microwave and then hung out the window in Aigburth, Liverpool on fireworks night. It has a unique smell of its own.

Anyway, the book I got today, Under Satan's Sun - Georges Bernanos, smells. There is an undertone of mothballs, which I haven't smelt since I was a child. Frankincense, possibly, and something much more chemical, like a newly opened jar of paint. I am not sure where it will go on the shelf. The Intimate Merton smells of a hot pavement in the city just after a summer storm. I 'liberated' Jesus the Liberator (Jon Sobrino) from school when I was 17, and it smells of classroom. Perhaps I should bring it back? Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal (J K Rowling), was the first book I bought in Salamanca, Spain and I walked around the city gardens with it for weeks trying to read in a language I hadn't learnt yet. It has crushed jasmine in it from my favourite walled hideaway courtyard in the shadow of the Cathedral. Tom Sawyer (Samuel Clemens) belonged to my dad, he got it for Christmas in 1948. It smells of wood, as though the paper still hankers after the branches it was cut from. I suppose paper refinement was different back then.

I guess the way you organise your bookshelf is personal. I read in The Guardian once about a woman who organised her books according to which books would 'get on' with each other. John Donne next to DH Lawrence because their conversations would be interesting. Leave Jane Austen away from Henry Fielding because he would bully her. For this the books have to be alive. I am sticking to my system, smells and size. I like the place to look neat, after all.

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