by Louis Borgenicht
Back in the day paperbacks had a very definite smell. I was going to write “odor” but that connotes something noxious and “olfactory” is too technical. It was a smell, sometimes characteristic enough to encourage to buy the book on that basis alone. It did not last long; you had to read the book shortly after purchase to glean the full experience.
None of the unique smells are describable at least from the distance of fifty years, but each of them was distinctive. My favorite was Bantam paperbacks. At one point in the mid-seventies I had convinced the publisher that I had the (then) equivalent of a blog and that I reviewed books. Thus I would receive a box of newly published Bantam books and would open the box with literary expectation; it was redolent with my favorite paperback smell.
The books were a mix: fiction, non-fiction, self-help, The Best Jewish Jokes, etc. Receiving freshly minted Bantam paperbacks were one thing but their smell was another. I never really got high from sniffing, but the smell was always reassuring.
Ballantine Books, publishers of tales of adventure and escape (e.g. Paul Brickhill’s The Great Escape), also had a distinct but evanescent smell. It did not last that long. Penguin Books were odorless, perhaps because they were published in Britain back in the day. Crest paperbacks probably had a smell that I cannot recall.
Bantam was indubitably my favorite.
Nowadays books don’t smell. Sometimes they are hardly even books (see Kindle, Nook and Kobo).
Editor’s note: And for something completely different this Valentine’s Day…book-scented perfume! The perfect gift for the consummate book lover is from Steidl Publishers in Germany. Paper Passion: Perfume For Booklovers at $98 may be just the thing for the person who loves their e-reader but misses the smell of the written word! Perfect to pair with your new Kobo eReader.