Kids Might Never Know The Smell Of An Old Book

It’s up to us to change that.

Old books
Photo: David Bise/EyeEm/Getty

On the list of my favorite smells of all time, there's no Chanel No. 5. Not even a hint of Miss Dior can be found. For me it's all about that musty, dusty fragrance of an old book—the more beige and crispy those page edges, the better. It doesn't take a bibliophile to know what I'm talking about. If you happen upon one of these treasures, whether on a grandparent's bookshelf, tucked away in a box in the attic, or at your local library, you know you've happened upon a true gem.

When I was a child, it seemed like these patinaed tomes were a dime a dozen, but maybe I just have my grandmother's den with floor-to-ceiling oak bookshelves to thank. I remember scanning through the dusty covers that all seemed to be the same unremarkable shade of beige. With my index finger I would lean each one out, one by one, to catch a glimpse of the title and author until I found one that struck my fancy. I would take it home with promises to return the beloved hardcover once I finished reading. All these years later, I can finally admit that I didn't actually read those books—Grandma's literary taste was not my own—but I did enjoy flipping through the crinkly pages as that old-book scent wafted up at me.

Back then we had no choice but to take our books in standard format. No e-readers, Libby apps, or Audible for us. Of course, I was a fan of the "books on tape" that one could pick up at Cracker Barrel and return to any location once it was time for a trade-in. But those cassettes weren't nearly as alluring as a tiny tablet that can hold dozens of books while still fitting in a slim carry-on.

For those of us who grew up with real books, the allure of them is not lost. We take our electronic versions when convenience must be king, but otherwise often prefer the more traditional versions. Those that have come after us though, for them it's a different story. They don't tend to have the nostalgia that our generation and the ones that came before have for non-chargeable entertainment. And who can blame them? They read books on phones, iPads, and tablets if they decide to read rather than listen.

To be sure, the benefits of all the ways we can crack open a good book (whether physically or electronically) is not to be underestimated. But, raising children who will never know that old-book smell, well that's plain old against our values. The first step in getting them to be avid readers though, is far more important in my eyes. After all, if they don't have a love of reading there will be no reason for them to seek out books to begin with—musty smelling or not.

There's certainly much to be grateful about all the ways children can access literature these days, and it's up to us to help foster a love of the written word, no matter in which format it comes. That doesn't mean I'm not already aging a few of my favorites to pass along to my children—let's just hope they appreciate the fragrance (and content) as much as I did.

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