Kernels of Nonsense, #22: Book Sniffing

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a bimonthly, discussion feature on my blog where I talk about various bookish topics. Today, I’m discussing the odd, yet essential role of book sniffing.

I never set out to be a book sniffer. Few of us bookworms ever talk about it, though most of us are aware of the strange practice. I’m not sure this is something nonreaders enjoy, but I know most of us love the smell of books.

Is it weird that I know exactly what book on my shelf smells the best? My copy of Wuthering Heights, which I’ve had for over ten years, continues to win the best-smelling-book award. I’m pretty sure I’ve taken a whiff of every book on my shelf. Although smelling books in a bookstore is less common for me (ever been caught smelling books by a stranger? I have, it’s somewhat embarrassing), book smelling at home is something I do on a regular basis.

Book sniffing is part of that little ritual I do when I recieve books in the mail. As I write this, I am expecting two books, so this is what I will be doing later. I open the package, take out my new books, I check for wear (I have this thing where I hate when new books come in the mail looking used, so I have to check to make sure everything looks good). I like to run my fingers down the spines and look at the cover art. Sometimes I’ll read the dust jacket, dedication, and flip to the back for the author bio (I also do these three things before starting a book). Then I open it right in the middle and take a nice whiff. Heavenly.

There is just something really relaxing about this fragrance. Some people find lavender or vanilla scented candles to their liking, but for me there is something so subtle and infinitely lovely about the smell of books. I haven’t gotten my hands on those book scented candles they sell on Etsy yet, but I’m dying to try them out!

Is it weird that my nose can recognize the difference between a new book smell and an old book smell? There used to be this used bookstore in my city and as soon as you walked in the door, you became submerged in that scent only old and used books have. There is nothing like it and it makes me terrible sad that this store went out of business.

I do have a few rules when it comes to booksniffing that I would like to share. Please note that I break rule number 1 and 4 all the time, but I try to be more discreet these days.


Are you a book sniffer? Do you know which book on your shelf smells the best? Do you prefer a new book or old book smell? Have you ever purchased a book-scented candle? Have any horror stories involving book sniffing in front of strangers? Share your thoughts in the comments!

15 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #22: Book Sniffing

    1. Wanted to say that there is nothing whatsoever weird about book sniffing . The smell of paper , ink, and bookbinding is a numinous sort of sensory epiphany that offers one a copious sense of what poet Gerald M. Hopkins called ,

      ‘the unspent freshness deep down things’ .

      It is surpassed only (in terms of similar smells ) by the amazing and by no means disquieting smell of acetates in a printing press .

      Beautiful smells (and smells that are interesting and *not* ugly, even if they are not what one would usually call beautiful) are like a sensory tertium quid between the immanent and transcendent .

      Furthermore, the taboo against sniffing books in a library or bookstore is ridiculous . One should sniff books as often as possible (barring any other factors of a substantial sort).

      Sniffing books in a library or bookstore is good .

      The part about not wearing lipstick while sniffing books is good advice .


  1. I’m SUCH a book sniffer. Sniffer and proud. I flick to sniff as opposed to putting my face in the book, it’s a great technique, you flick from back to front and place your face close enough to get a waft. It’s wonderful. You should try it. Also, I love how different books smell different – novel, versus text book, versus the adult colouring book I got, the different smells are intoxicating! R x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha we should make up names for all the different methods, like dance moves do. I like a good “eyes closed head back” too. Usually followed by a sigh of some sort. But a good sigh. A high toned sigh of contentment. R x

        Liked by 1 person

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