I like the smell of books…

I like the smell of books…

This week’s lecture is entitled ‘I like the smell of books’. This seems to be the most common reason people give for preferring printed books. So my questions are:

What is it about the physical book that remains such an attraction for readers? Is it the smell? What are your reading habits?

21 thoughts on “I like the smell of books…

  1. As far as I know between my own opinions and my friends’ opinions, its the feeling of having something physical in your hands to read. I personally use my grandmother’s bookmark when reading – she was a librarian, and she passed away around 2-3 years ago now, and everytime I see the bookmark, it urges me to carry on reading.

    The fact you can turn the pages physically almost gives a sense of accomplishment when you finish a book, rather than on an eReader which then proceeds to give you more book suggestions, immediately directing you from the story you’ve just read – at least with a physical book, you get some time to contemplate if you want before you proceed to do anything else.

    Also I personally like the fact I have a collection of physical books on display. It’s almost a bank of achievements to say ‘I have read all of these’. I think anyone who ever has a collection of books will feel a little pride in them, even if they don’t want to admit it!

    And of course, nothing beats the smell of old books. Going into second-hand bookshops is a past-time of mine, because I instantly feel inspired to read or write something by being surrounded by books. It’s something that’s unexplainable as to why it’s enjoyable – it just is!

  2. Like Yas, I love the feeling of physically holding a book. Thick, thin, tall, short, hardback, paperback gold-edged pages, small print, large print, fabric-covered, leather-bound, colours, pictures, fonts – all of these things are a huge part of the reading experience for me. Being someone who can’t stand spoilers and will never read a blurb, it is often the cover, size, or shape of a book that persuades me to buy it – that and the first page of course!

    Again, just as Yas feels pride when looking at her bookshelf, I too love looking through all the books I’ve ever read. Although, two overloaded and consequently broken bookshelves later, I feel that this might be getting a little out of hand!

    Yet, it is just the things that make physical books awkward and annoying to some that makes me love them all the more. I love that nothing else will fit into my handbag because my book takes up all the room. I love that when you read lying down you have to alter your position every time you finish a page. I love every tear, crease and stain created because I just couldn’t leave my book at home or put it down to eat. I love having to use various objects to weigh down the pages in order that I can continue reading whilst eating a meal that requires two hands. I love finishing my book and then travelling all the way into town just to buy another one.

    I don’t think anything can put me off!

    Without all of these things, you lose the whole experience of reading. It becomes too sterile, too clean and easy. You race through a book and within 30 seconds you’ve started another. No one can tell what you’re reading and so, you’ll find that less and less often do you hear ‘Ooh! I was thinking of reading that! Is it good?’. And, if it is good, how will you lend it to them?

    Whilst I’m sure many people could list just as many reasons why you should read ebooks, for me at least, this is why I prefer print.

    Hello. My name is Daisy. And I’m a printbookaholic.

  3. Although technology is moving at such a rapid pace, I feel it is important not to leave tradition behind. Books are not just physical objects, they are an amazing part of history. Even in someone’s own personal history, books hold memories, casting our minds back to childhood for example.

    Undeniably, it is about the way we interact with books also: the smell, the touch, and the visual aspect. These are senses that an ebook can’t compete with. Sure they can create a simulation of turning a page, but it will never be the real thing.

    I do not own, and I never will, a device to read from. Even reading from my laptop I massively struggle with – it’s just so alien to me. I guess this is because I’m a digital immigrant, tablets and kindles obviously didn’t exist when I was a child, so all I know is to find and pick up a book – and nothing beats it!

  4. Nothing quite compares to standing in front of a book shelf, physically picking a book out and then reading it. Similar to what Lil has said, the way you interact with an e-book simply isn’t the same, e-books don’t have that personal touch that books do. I also love to see the physical progression of reading a book (not the percentage you have read which is shown on a kindle).

    Being a slight cover-snob (yes, I will judge a book by it’s cover), I also like to get specific editions of books that will look lovely on a bookshelf, and this is not something that can be achieved by an e-book. Seeing a digital version of a cover doesn’t even come close to having a physical copy of a book.

    I will never connect with a digital version of a book in the same way that I connect with an actual book.

    On a side note, someone on Etsy has made a collection of candles from books/of books, it’s scents like Gatsby’s Mansion, The Shire and Old Books, here’s the link! https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Frostbeard

  5. All those reading should be warned: this post will be controversial.

    I shall start by saying I love my eReader (don’t say I didn’t warn you). The convenience of having every book I could ever want to read on my iPad makes me so joyful. At half the price and the effort of buying books, my bank account is so much more stable.

    This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with everything that has been said here previously; if I could have all the books I wanted to read on my bookshelf, without breaking the bank (and the bookshelf), I would! Going to the library as a child, picking out a stack of book and reading them as soon as I got home was my main priority in life. Every birthday and Christmas I always asked for books (and still do).
    The theme here is smell, and I agree with the consensus – old books smell amazing! Penumbra ruined that for me slightly, as it told that it was the smell of them decaying. So although my iPad may be scent free, it also means I will have my books forever. They will not fall apart, their spines cracked and unstable. If I find a book a truly love and want to pass down, I will buy it. I’ll buy two so I can have a copy to lend out, without relinquishing my own. Then I have my pretty collection on my shelf for visitors to admire, with less-appealing titles hidden away on the tiny computer that I keep on my bedside table. I don’t feel I am losing anything by not having a physical book. I still take away the same meanings and images from the words.
    I can read in the dark, on the go, in the bath. Of course the internet could implode, all computers be rendered obsolete or they turn on us Y2K style. But that is very unlikely. So all I have to worry about is the battery dying.

  6. I think all of the points made already cover pretty much everything.

    The only thing I will add, is that I’ve always felt there is some psychological, perhaps even biological rejection of eReaders in our minds. We talk of how a book feels, looks and smells, so it’s easy to see how the cold digital logic of a device may be off putting for someone who regularly becomes absorbed in a book. I’ve also seen articles that state books read on an eReader are more easily forgotten, which only seems to enforce this idea.

    However, one of my reading habits is to write down words I have never heard before to look up later. With an eReader I can see a word’s definition with a poke of my finger, so their advantages are undeniable, and ‘convenience’ is arguably what made eReaders so popular in the first place.

    I particularly agree with the point made about having a full shelf of books. A bookshelf can define a person. Your interests, hobbies and perhaps even large aspects of your personality could be derived from looking a your book shelf for just a few minutes. Having pride in that collection is something that appeals to me.

    All things considered, I’m a sucker for the future, and for technology. If someone found a way of taking my shelf full of books and blending them with the digital age in some way, I’d probably be all for it.

    Personal virtual reality libraries perhaps? Or maybe cartridges for your eReader, allowing for a collection and cover art (even a blurb if it’s small).

  7. I think most of the reasons people like physical books have been covered already. There’s something about holding a book, turning the pages, smelling the paper, seeing the books on a shelf. Books with pictures tend to translate better in physical books because not all e-readers can handle images well, e.g. the old Kindles, and the design of the page is sure to work out whereas sometimes the design doesn’t work properly as an eBook.
    However, personally I tend to buy eBooks rather than physical ones. Part of it is the fact that they tend to be cheaper but it’s also the convenience of having all your books with you to read when you want. I like being able to highlight quotes and make notes without feeling like I am defacing a book. I like the fact that my progress syncs across all my devices and I like being told how long is left in a chapter. You’re never without a book and if you’ve read them all, you can just buy another one then and there.
    Then again, you can’t buy someone an eBook as a present. You can’t appreciate the way the book has been set out or the typeface they chose. You can’t put it on a shelf and show everyone you read it, which for some books is probably a good thing. I guess it’s more about your priorities. If you want to read a book as a whole experience, you’re probably going to go with a physical book, but if you just want to read something for the story, there’s nothing wrong with an eBook.

  8. A physical book can provide a certain level of satisfaction that a digital device just can’t. The warmth of the pages as you hold it between your thumb and fingers, the texture of its cover, and of course, the smell; there is nothing quite like going into a book shop, sticking your nose between the pages of a book and inhaling its scent deeply.
    Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps the sweet almost earthy smell is a reminder of the last adventure we had in the pages of a novel, the emotions that were stirred up by characters so finely written that you could imagine them sitting next to you, or perhaps it’s just a property in the ink or paper that humans find irresistible.
    Perhaps it is the play on the senses that comes with reading a book that makes the print reading experience so attractive. When reading from a digital device, you are staring into the bright, impersonal face of a tablet – gone are the splodges of ink and the grain of the page and in it’s place are sharp black pixels that make up perfectly formed letters.
    However, I do believe that there is room for device and book to come together to make it more interactive and engaging for digital natives. As Stephen Fry says: ‘One technology doesn’t replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators’.

  9. I believe also that people, both in the reading world and generally, like to have a physical representation of memories and experiences. Printing off photographs, hanging up posters and having books on the shelf make those more accessible. While e-books are great, its not often that you do much with your kindle library other than scroll through to get to the latest thing you downloaded. When books sit on your shelf at home they don’t just look nice – glancing at them can bring back scenes and characters and themes without even opening them. I like to buy physical copies solely to remind myself which e-books struck a chord with me or made me realise something important, while also giving more support to the authors I like.

    When that is combined with the sensory details missing from an e-book – the feel of paper underneath your fingers, the smell, the physical action of turning a page, it creates a complete experience that hasn’t yet been rivaled by digital.

  10. I will only ever have good things to say about the digital advancement that the book industry has embraced. Shock horror I know. Like Mother, like daughter, my mother is also a fond reader and without the capabilities of e-books and audio books she would be unable to do so. The digital world created a whole new audience in the creation of these formats because now those with visual impairment can also enjoy. Therefore I remain a supporter of the digital world because it opens up opportunities for all book worms.

    However, there are aspects of physical books that you just can’t experience in the digital world. Walking into to a book store is something every book worm enjoys, the smell is always the same and always just as comforting. The variety of covers are always a true delight in a bookstore. Colour and texture I would say are the two elements that make book cover browsing so interesting. All books have their own character and that’s why book worms can spend hours narrowing down their options and honestly browsing a bookstore is a lot more thrilling than scrolling through an online retailer.

    But when it comes down to it, I just want to read no matter the format.

  11. Digital or physical books? I choose both.

    As a physical object the printed book gives you a sense of ownership that an ebook or digital text simply cannot provide. Yet, more and more often I am increasingly picky about which books I choose to buy in print mainly due to cost and convenience.

    We are all aware that you can download an unlimited amount of books for (usually) a fraction of the price of a printed book without leaving the comfort of your home and it is this convenience which is a main attraction for me. I only ever find myself chain-reading when I’m travelling so I don’t want to be adding excess weight to my baggage by carrying around a hoard of books, so my Kindle is perfect for storing all of the books I plan to read.

    Digital reading also gives you more privacy in comparison to a physical book. I feel that often (especially on trains and planes) people do judge a book by its cover and are very judgemental, or perhaps inquisitive about other people’s reading choices, which is something I am guilty of as well. Whereas on an Kindle/E-Reader, I feel I can easily indulge myself in the anonymity of a blank cover, especially if I’m having a bit of a binge read of the new Katie Price. This also means that I can discard the ebook when I’m done with it by simply deleting the file, rather than having to invest in a book which I know will be a load of rubbish and I will want to discard of afterwards.

    Funnily enough, this book snobbery also comes into play when I’m wanting to purchase a physical book. Unless a book has been a gift the only books I have on my bookshelf are books used for study or book that I have read and loved and am willing to invest in and show off. This goes back to my original point about physical books giving the reader a sense of ownership but I just prefer to be more picky about the books I invest in, as for me a buying a physical book means that I will definitely read it again or it is a book that has had an effect on me. Buying a book for me then becomes more of an experience that an impulse buy, so I prefer to buy my books from independent bookshops rather than the internet as for me the convince of doing this makes a book feel disposable and more than likely comes with a disposable price tag.

    Likewise, I also like to have a physical book when I’m reading for educational purposes.
    I love to make notes directly onto books as then my thoughts along with the authors work can be collated in one place, which then adds personal value to the book, regardless of whether I enjoy it or not. I know this can be done on a digital device but when I am in study mode I prefer to take it back to basics by literally putting pen to paper.

  12. I am in favour of both digital and physical books. I don’t mind reading on a tablet when I’m reading for information but if I want to read for enjoyment I want something to hold. I will only ever buy books second hand because of the images it can conjure.
    When I used to work in a second hand book store in Belfast I would spend the majority of those four hours sifting through the piles and piles of dusty, mouldy old books. It sounds rather unpleasant but I enjoyed every moment of it as you never knew what you might find. The smells of perfume, smoke and must were always present. Some of these books were over a hundred years old, one hundred years, just think of all the hands that have held it! I simply cannot imagine in the year 2100 that someone might hold up a kindle with the same awe. My favourite books were the ones which you could tell had been cherished, with their former owners name and address perfectly printed on the inner page. I found lost war veterans photographs, I found old love letters, I found shopping lists and many many bookmarks all inside these forgotten books in the storeroom. As much as I enjoy and want to embrace the new digital style of reading I never want the old way of reading to become obsolete. There are still thousands of books out there waiting to be read and have their secrets rediscovered.

  13. If I were forced to make a choice between physical books and e-books, I would definitely choose the physical copy, hands down.

    Having been surrounded by books that have been handed down or bought at car-boot sales all my life, I love the look of a book shelf. To me it makes a house a home. My future house will have a room where eventually there is no room for any more books!

    One of my favourite things about books is the covers. Everyone says not to judge a book by its cover, but I’ll be honest, I do. If it’s not pretty enough, I’m more tempted to pass over it in favour of the sparkly, foiled one feels so lovely under your finger tips. Of course, as previously stated, the smell is also a point winner. That fresh smell of a new book is like a breath of fresh air, especially if you’re stuck on a tube!

    Having said all of that, I use my kindle far more than I buy books at the moment as I can’t afford the beautiful, feel-good copies. But next year, bookshops and I will be the best of friends.

  14. For me, it has to be a mix of both. It depends on the purpose of reading. I find, since owning a Kindle, I use physical books for academic reading and indulgence and ebooks for passing the time and disguising my guilty pleasures.

    I find it easier to read physical books even with altering the display settings on my Kindle. Also, the satisfaction of bookmarking your current page and watching it meander through the pages is a treat that digital lacks, but as others have said, there are more factors that filter into this debate.

    For example, the cost of physical books compared to ebooks as well as occupation; student equals cheapest way possible. I will admit I buy certain books for pennies when I know bookshops would benefit from my pounds, but instead I am selfish. I want physical books that don’t dent my bank balance and if this isn’t on offer I turn to my trusty Kindle.

    Ultimately, I think when reading is a luxury people tend to use the physical book, but when it is a convenience ebooks are the perfect candidate.

  15. I love books. For me, it’s not always being able to physically hold the novel – I just enjoy the story within! Despite that, I completely agree with a lot of the opinions already stated.
    The smell of a new book, or a really old one, is amazing. Last week I bought my flatmate a book she had wanted for a while and the first thing she did when she took it from the bag was open the pages, bring it up to her nose and sniff. I could only laugh when I told her how I did the exact same thing.
    As far as e-readers go, I have a Kindle. I also have the Kindle app on my iPad. I love buying cheap books from Amazon and as someone else said it’s a great place to store all those guilty pleasure buys. Some I’d be rather embarrassed about if they were on my bookshelf.
    I still buy books at an alarming rate and a lot of the time my bank doesn’t thank me for it, which is why the Kindle comes in so handy. I’m able to keep my reading habit without risking living off Sainsbury’s 5p noodles for a month and still occasionally splurge on a paperback from Waterstones or Mr B’s.

  16. When Kindles first became popular I was adamant I would not be getting one, it didn’t matter peoples arguments I was 100% committed to the real book cause. I now have a Kindle, and have had one for several years. This does not mean however that I no longer buy real paperback books. I buy so many paperbacks that I have nowhere to put them.

    The smell is definitely part of it. The musk that accompanies an old book gives it a history and context that just isn’t available on an e-reader. The weight and inconvenience of a paperback – part of the reason people are swayed to buy e-readers – are actually part of the experience and joy of reading genuine books.

    Books on Kindle may be cheaper, but you do not come away with the sense of treasure you get when you purchase a book from a bookshop. There is nothing like browsing the shelves to find your next buy rather than Kindle offering them up to you. Kindle’s recommended reading list are so dry, they look at what you’ve read before and then will give you a book as similar as possible. Who wants that? Surely the pleasure of reading is knowing that the next book you pick up could be completely different than anything you’ve read before, not a carbon copy of the last thing you read.

    So for me, personally, while I own a Kindle and most definitely appreciate its good qualities, I will forever be a real book fan.

  17. I have never been particularly enthralled with the notion of the e-reader, and as such have never purchased one. Whilst there are obvious benefits to digital books, I find that physical books still possess many qualities that prevent them from becoming redundant.

    The tangibility of the physical book is perhaps its greatest attribute. The smell, feel and visual appearance of the physical book all lend to an overall experience of reading which cannot be achieved by its digital counterpart. Books hold a kind of authority in their physicality; they exist in the physical world and exist purely as a physical embodiment of the author’s ideas and imagination. Books cannot transform into something else, and whilst this may seem to be an inferiority it is actually a strength. Perhaps a good analogy is this: presented with either the chance to see a unique piece of art in person or to flick through an album with photos of many artworks, which experience feels more valid? Which holds more gravitas? The e-reader removes physicality and also lessens the sense of ownership. Increasingly we live in a world where one owns data rather than physical belongings: music, literature and games can all be purchased digitally but we have no physical ownership outside of our devices.

    Perhaps our notions of what makes physical books valid are just nostalgia. Maybe the younger generations that will not learn to read through paper and will not experience their first thrilling stories on paper will hold no allegiance to books. Personally, I believe that books will always hold a place in our societies, something’s just cannot be replaced digitally.

  18. I think there will always be a place for the print edition in the contemporary world of literature. Not only is there a lack of reliance on a plug socket as you approach the final few pages of a mammoth read and your E-Reader battery begins to evaporate, but reading a print edition of a novel, or any type of literature, gives readers a sense of satisfaction as they progress through the text.

    I know that when I read anything I HAVE to read as part of a module, having a print edition ensures I focus much more on the text, rather than get distracted with other apps, games and social media on my device. That being said, practicality dictates that an E-Reader or mobile device is a must in modern times. While print will always have a place, (and it is the form in which I prefer to read), having a whole library in one compact device which you can take anywhere (charging availability permitting) in a bag is much easier on your shoulders and your wallet.

    Publishers now, however, seem to be focusing on reinventing book covers. Artwork is something that can make or break the purchase of a novel in a bookstore, and the digital library of books available through E-Readers and other electronic devices is something that can’t match stumbling upon a literary gem in a classic bookstore.

  19. The general consensus seems to be that holding, feeling and smelling a book is superior to the experience of digital reading however, I don’t share this view. I can just as easily become absorbed in a digital book as I can a print copy, and more often find that I prefer the convenience of reading from my phone (on the kindle app). For me, reading from my phone or kindle is more comfortable, as attempting to get cosy with a longer and heavier book can be difficult (note Clarissa). I also like that I always have easy access to a novel, and can buy new texts instantly.
    Having said this, I take pride in my bookshelves and view the purchase of paperbacks as a luxury which are to be displayed. I believe this pride is linked to the fact that the majority of my physical books are modern classics or are seen as higher brow, whereas my ‘throwaway fiction’ or guilty pleasures are hidden on my kindle. I will always purchase print editions, but feel that it is possible to like both equally.

  20. I have mixed opinions about this topic, while I do not think it is particularly ecologically sustainable to go on mass producing paperback books when the market is becoming so saturated with writers, I do think that books in their physical form are a very important part of our socio-cultural identity. Looking back over centuries of history, the content of books has changed dramatically, but not so much their design. As an entity we’ve been pretty happy with them so far, so why change something that isn’t broken?
    We are still part of a generation who, from a young age, we are taught to love print-and-paper books. As a child you venture into a library, with their rainbow walls and see the exposed spines of hundreds of books. You learn from your senses and explore books through sight, touch and even smell. You may feel, even now, a sense of physical exploration when you enter a bookshop or library and relive memories through the smell of a new or old book. Maybe the next generation will not have so hard a time of swapping print book for e book, after all they would have grown up with both, the smell of books might not be so evocative for the new age of readers and writers.
    But for me, there’s still the sense that you can stumble upon something unexpected within the physical world of books, having your eye caught by an interesting title or being lent an old straggly well-loved book by a friend, rather than be lead the same route of hyperlinks and ‘suggested reading’ lists like millions of others online.

  21. I don’t know why it has to be an “either/or” situation with books. I feel like there’s a place for both in the world of literature, and each has their own merits. There seems to be an invented rivalry between physical and digital, when they could be working together to create something mind-blowing.

    Monetary-wise, I would always go for an electronic copy over a physical copy as they are much cheaper. Bookstores are fast becoming a luxury of the wealthy, as not everybody has £20 to spend on a stunning hardback edition of a novel. I know not all books are this expensive, but if we are going for the feel and smell of a book, then the best copy is what most people would go for.

    I have loved reading from a young age, but I cannot understand the mentality that physical books are somehow better. It is nice to have something physical to hold, but a Nook or a Kindle is just as solid as a book. My bookshelf is vastly decorative now, although since my Nook broke I have been getting back into physical copies (which I suppose is a benefit – a paperback’s screen will never break). I have never understood the “smell” of books of the appeal of turning a page – it’s all in the mind, and I think it’s just a matter of adapting. There will always be a place for physical books, I think, because they are so beloved, but we don’t need to be stuck going backwards because we’re scared of technology.

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