I bought a book today because of its scent.
It is an old Oxford paperback, with a cover the color of parchment and faded flowers. It was on the to-be-shelved rack in the literary criticism section of the Richardson Halfprice Books. I did not need it. We had a cart full of books already, some for us, some for the children. But when I picked up the book and felt its smooth cover, almost creamy to the touch, I felt that familiar eagerness. This book was meant to be a pleasure to hold. The Penguins and the Oxford paperbacks of the 1960s were made to satisfy the senses of the reader as well as the mind.
Last Christmas Az the husband gave me a Kindle, one of those electronic book readers. I love its ease and compact accessibility, and I especially love how many books I can get for free. But reading on it has made me aware of how much tactile pleasure I used to get from books. There is joy in holding a book just so in your hand, joy in a book that has been well-made. Acid-free paper and clear type, a spine that bends but does not break, a cover illustration that makes you wonder about the contents. All these pleasures are lost in a Kindle, where I have had to love books only for their words, a task that is not as simple as I expected.
If you love Rudyard Kipling's Kim, you can love it on an e-reader, but you will only be loving the platonic ideal of Kim. You cannot love this book, this copy I hold in my hand, the one with the dog-eared cover and the coffee-stain on page 193. Every time you pick up this book, this one here, it reminds you of that summer before junior year at the lake in Wisconsin, when you were slathered in calamine after stumbling into poison ivy. You remember how the book kept you from scratching, mostly, and you only closed it when you needed to swat a fly. Every time you read this book, it feels like coming home.
The Oxford paperback with the cream and dusty-rose cover felt good in my hand, and when I opened it, the scent of its pages took me back to the summers at my parents' house in Kansas, looking through the bookshelves in the basement for something to read. The summers were hot but the basement was cool, and thousands of books lined its walls. I could pick out whatever I wanted. The slim Penguin Classics called to me, and I read the Inferno and the Iliad and Candide, copies left over from my dad's college years. Sometimes, as a boon from the playful reading gods, I would find his notes in the margin, crisp neat writing of a younger man I never met, a man who did not yet know my mother. We would meet across the margins, and I would smile quietly and say nothing. I never give away the ending.
I bought a book today because of its scent. Because some day my children may want to browse our shelves on their own in the cool basement, and smooth slim volumes may call to them (now where did I leave that pencil?). I bought a book because reading is a dangerous endeavour, and I should be grounded in case of lightning strike, my hands touching something real, my feet rooted with the tree its paper comes from.
So I bought the book with the dusty-rose cover. I will read it with my whole body, even if I only use my eyes.