I have being ploughing through a 77-page novella the whole of last week and I still havenít been able to go past the halfway mark. No, itís not what you think.
Nondito Noroke (In a Blissful Hell), the 1972 debut novel of the great Bangladeshi writer Humayun Ahmed who passed away last month, is a rather good read, as it deals with the nervous, tightly-coiled life of a young man living with his parents and two sisters. So it’s not the writing that keeps making me put the book away.
I’ve not been able to read this book because it smells. Many of us who have had a relationship with books — you know, those physical objects predating e-readers on Kindles and iPads and scroll-down web pages — associate the smell of book pages with something dreamy and pleasant. A deep intake of the air trapped between the pages of a new book usually makes us close our eyes, think of unicorns, high ceilings, wooden stairs and childhood. Okay, maybe not the unicorns if you’ve had a healthy childhood.
Old books give out whiffs of a different kind, what an international team of chemists from the University College of London and the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia very scientifically described in 2009 as “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness”.
But this book that I’ve kept now at a distance has pages that emanate an odour that I’ve identified as a mixture of rotten vegetables and effluents from a Chinese tannery with a strong hint of used socks left out in the rain. I’m lucky that this isn’t the first Humayun Ahmed book for me. It would have been a pity if the smell of this book drove me to the conclusion that the writer stinks.
Which is where Karl Lagerfeld comes into the picture — and hopefully to my rescue.
Like me, the creative director of Chanel loves the smell of books. “The smell of a freshly-printed book is the best smell in the world,” Lagerfeld, a bigger name in the perfume and sensory industry than me, has stated on record. So it was only a matter of time that British publisher Steidl had an inspired chat with Lagerfeld and then hooked up with perfumer Geza Schoen and Wallpaper* magazine to create the scent, Paper Passion.
Paper Passion is a bottled fragrance that smells like old books — “of wood pulp, ink and the gradual acidic breakdown of fibres”.
Mmm. Cleverly packaged in a hollowed-out book (like the gun inside a hollowed-out Bible in the old Spaghetti Westerns), the perfume is targeted at a clientele that misses the, ahem, “gloriosensuality” of a book in these pagan Kindle and iPad times. “To wear the smell of a book is something very chic. Books are players in the intellectual world, but also in the world of luxury,” we are told, as I wonder whether my copy of Lolita matches my drapes. Coming at $98 a bottle, Paper Passion may be a bit out of my reach, especially if it’s just to douse the paper fumes of a book that cost me about $1.80. Also, I find the prospect of reading Bossypants, the wonderful memoir of funnywoman Tina Fey, as well as Don Quixote, the great novel of funnyman Miguel Cervantes, emanating the same ‘gloriosensual’ odour on my Kindle a bit gloriosilly.
But thanks to free-market perfumery, I may have a more viable option for saving my putrid-smelling copy of In Blissful Hell. The company, Smell of Books™, sells “aerosol e-book enhancers” at far more affordable prices. While the company is making a big pitch for its New Book Smell aroma ($28.99), I think for my purpose, Classic Musty Smell ($9.99), with its tagline “like having the collected works of Shakespeare in a can”, will do the job.
Unless, I just go ahead and download the smelly book that’s available on the Internet.
(Indrajit Hazra is a