I have a confession to make. I bought a Kindle 4 months ago and I’ve hardly used it.
It’s not that I don’t love it. I do. It’s nifty, convenient and its brown leather cover lends it a smart, corporate air. And I defend it vigorously against those who say they can’t see the benefits of it, especially when they say, ‘I look at a computer screen all day, I don’t want to do it when I read a book.’
It’s nothing like a computer screen, I tell them. It’s of a special non-glare design that you can even read in the sun (I’ve tested it by taking it to the beach), there’s no strain on the eyes and from the visual point of view it’s just like reading a normal printed page.
For me, though, the words on the page are only part of the story. Reading is also a tactile and olfactory experience. I love the feel of a book in my hand, its reassuring solidity and the texture of the pages as I turn them – sometimes new and starched, other times soft and pliable from the hands that have turned them before me.
But the real pleasure is the smell. Like a wine connoisseur who inhales the bouquet of the wine before tasting it, I’m compelled to breath in the pages of a book before I read it. The best way to smell a book, in case you’re wondering, is to hold it up to your nose and flip through the pages.
Like wines, each book has its own distinctive aroma depending on where it’s from. Fresh and crisp with a hint of woodiness if straight from the bookshop, (sometimes you can still smell the print), stale and musty if from the library, add a strong suggestion of mildew if from the second-hand bookshop. And when you’ve sniffed enough books you can even discern their origins – this book came from the Mary Ryan Bookshop at Byron Bay, that one was owned by an old lady who gave it to her niece. *
The aroma of the book is all part of the anticipation of the journey ahead of me, of immersing myself in another world, just as real as the one I inhabit. And in that respect my Kindle doesn’t quite cut it – it’s conspicuously odourless. If someone were to invent a Kindle that emitted a book-like smell, I certainly wouldn’t thumb my nose at it.
*Some readers might be tempted to say that the label on the back cover ‘Mary Ryan Bookshop, Byron Bay’ is a dead giveaway, as is the spidery inscription inside the pre-loved book, ‘To Madeleine, from your Aunty Violet.’
However, dedicated book sniffers refuse to be daunted by such cynicism.