• Eccentricity

    • Scientists explain the chemistry behind the smell of old and new books, which bibliophiles will undoubtedly appreciate.

    The Aroma of Books: the chemistry behind the moving smell of old / 

    A love affair with a book, even if this is just a one night stand, begins with contact and smell. First the cover, then the texture and, finally, the intoxicating smell. Old books capture the smell of time like no other object. But, even new books, with their freshly printed letters, can permeate the reader with their lushness. And we must touch a book to smell it. They have it all. Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes we can imagine is a person opening books in the library just to smell them. Or someone who has just read a memorable line and decides to smell it and keep that moment forever. People who do not read will never feel any of the latter, and it goes without saying that they are missing out on an unparalleled pleasure.

    The Compound Interest website gathered information concerning this odorous phenomenon and designed an infographic that every booklover in the world will be able to appreciate. “The Aroma of Books”, explains the chemistry behind this philological eroticism.

    Books, both new and old, will give off several hundred volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds have a variety of origins —some are the products of degradation, whilst others are the result of the type of paper, binding adhesive and printing ink used in the manufacture of the book. The emissions of these compounds can also be used as a tool to assess degradation condition of books.

    According to their research, the differences in paper, ink and adhesives influence the smell of new books; however it’s the smell of old that truly captivates readers and researchers. Usually, the decomposition of chemical compounds found in the paper leads to the “old book smell”. The paper contains, among other chemicals, cellulose and lignin (this last one is less present in new books as opposed to old, and is the key to everything).

     The smell of old books is, to a great extent, the result of the chemical degradation of lignin. High quality modern paper has to undergo a chemical process that removes this compound. In this sense, a book manufactured nowadays will never smell like a book manufactured fifty years ago. And no book, on a subtle level, will ever smell like another. Yet another element that vindicates the beauty of book collections.

    Collectors, as Walter Benjamin used to say, are “are the physiognomers of the world of objects”. To them, more than anything or anyone else, the gradation of smells on a bookshelf is ever-present. However, no reader who has ever become attached to a book, like someone who becomes attached to a palpable memory, will stop turning to the smell of its pages. For them, this chemical phenomenon also exists; the casual erotica that shows itself through the senses.

    Tagged: books, Eccentricity, chemistry