The scent of old books that readers love

When I was a kid, in the very beginning of my teen years, I was just coming into the written word. I didn’t have much experience with reading and had no desire to, in fact, it was a deep hatred I held with hints of embarrassment and anxiety. So you can imagine I never went to a library or book store. My mom hadn’t been a big reader and I didn’t live with my dad who was, seeing him only a couple weekends a month. He and his wife spent a lot of time reading and had bookshelves and cupboards full of books, always buying new ones to journey within. He read things like The Hobbit, she read typical romance. The home I lived ins only reading material was what came in the mail which drew little interest.

After reading my first book and beginning to study mythology I was soon drawn to the library in a neighboring town. It was a short walk for someone of my age, a little more than a mile. I could make it in 15 to 20 minutes easily. I hadn’t entered one outside of middle school until that moment. When I walked in the scent of old paper and a hint of the librarians perfume lingered.

On the left side of the entrance were shelves filled almost to the 15 ft ceiling with books. On the right the librarian was behind a desk. Straight in front of me were these things that looked much like apartment mailboxes only smaller. They had small drawers and little handles. There were letters on the front of them beginning with A ending with Z. I knew from our tour of the middle school that this was the Dewey decimal system.

The librarian must have known how lost I really was in a place like this. She smiled kindly and came to my side. “What are we looking for today?” She asked. Before that moment I hadn’t really thought about it. I just wanted something I could read. I shrugged my shoulders and and met her gentle eyes. She went on to tell me all of the types of books there were, peaking my interest and including there was an entire floor upstairs dedicated to young adult and children’s books. With that I lit up. I didn’t bother much more with the downstairs part of the library to learn more of what were on the shelves before me.

I left the entrance way passing the tall shelves now on my right into the hall. It was a musty hall and somewhat dusty feeling but remained inviting. Right in front of me going up were a set of stairs. I climbed each one ready to dive into my search for my new favorite written word. When I got to the top slightly to the left was another door way, this with the doors closed and glass in the front to look in. Instead of opening the doors to begin my search I looked in through the windows.

It was more brightly lit and the shelves were not as high, a little higher than chest level. A smaller desk than downstairs sat on the right of the entrance and the rest of the room was packed with the short shelves housing thousands of books. Straight in front of me in front of the windows were small tables and chairs like you see in a kindergarten classroom with stacks of small thin books on top and scattered about.

Taking in a deep breath I pushed the doors open and the same smell of old paper hit me bringing a smile to my face. The librarian of upstairs asked if she could help me find anything, I shook my head no and began scanning the shelves one by one. I didn’t care much what genre I would pull from the shelves, my main attraction was the cover photo and the font of writing. Sounds a little ridiculous I know but I was drawn to a certain feel and look of the books. I suppose it had a lot to do with the artistic eye I’ve always had.

I scanned the shelves and found a dark hunter green book with gold inlay writing. I do not at this time recall what the book was but when I picked it up I was instantly drawn to it. It was a large book with many stories within from what I could see just inside the cover. There were no pictures on the front, no photo of the author on the back, and I had no idea what kind of stories lie on the pages between. I didn’t care, this was the book I was taking home.

I went to the counter where the elderly librarian sat now and asked her how long I could borrow this book for. She had told me I could borrow up to 4 books at a time for 4 weeks. Looking at the size of the book she added if I needed any more time I could extend my borrowing time by 2 weeks for as long as it took to finish them unless someone else requested the books I borrowed. I looked at her and then at the book as certain as she was that I would need several extensions to finish a book of this size. She asked for my library card which of course I didn’t have and signed me up for my first one looking pleased as she did.

The smell that filled the room was faint but endearing. It drew me in and I hardly wanted to leave, only deciding to do so out of need to start reading this new found wonder. There was a clipboard I had to sign to prove how many people utilized the library and a card in the back of the book that the librarian removed and stamped with the date I was to return it. Happily I took my book and left the library trying to remain quiet as I left. I hurried home on that sunny day ready to find out what adventures were to be discovered within the pages.

Instead of just throwing my book onto my dresser in my room when I got home to explore later, I plopped down on the bed and opened it. It also had the now welcoming smell of the library and old pages. I breathed in deeply the scent from inside. The pages were sturdy but a yellowish brown color instead of the bright white you would find in a new book. I didn’t care. I began flipping through each page as I ventured with the characters. In less than a week I was flipping to the last page. I couldn’t believe it. I had read numerous stories and a book with a thousand pages or more in only a week. The smell of the book continued to grow on me with each sentence read. It was now the smell of adventure, love, mystery, and more. The smell of the cut wood to create the pages of the stories. The smell that now and forever more will be a smell of home.

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One thought on “The scent of old books that readers love

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  1. “A computer does not smell … if a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better… And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry.”
    ― Ray Bradbury

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