Old 07-24-2009, 03:14 PM
tr0psn4j tr0psn4j is offline
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Why Do Books Smell?

So what makes an old book smell? Almost all library books have that nasty smell to them. It smells kind of like urine. Books I've bought in the last 6 or so years don't have that smell to them.

I'd ask for ways to avoid stinking up books, but, like I said, I've never had that problem with my own books.
Old 07-24-2009, 03:35 PM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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In my experience, acrid odors in books are almost always caused by mildew.

Mold tends to create a mellower, not-actually-unpleasant aroma. It's just as bad for the book, though.

ETA: And before someone pedantics all over my post, I know that mildew is a form of mold. I use the term to distinguish between forms that seem to need wetter conditions to flourish (mildew) from those that do fine in dryer conditions (mold).

Last edited by KneadToKnow; 07-24-2009 at 03:39 PM.
Old 07-24-2009, 03:45 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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Older paper was made with higher levels of sulfur in it. I'm not sure if you pick up the sulfur naturally or if it needs mold to liberate it, but it is definitely noticeable in some of the old books I have like my treasured copy of 1984.
Old 07-24-2009, 03:49 PM
tdn tdn is offline
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Wasn't it about 10 years ago that publishers switched to a better, more acid-free paper? There's a noticeable change in look and feel. The pages don't yellow so much.
Old 07-24-2009, 04:04 PM
jayjay jayjay is offline
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I LOVE the smell of old books. I've been in the habit of browsing in used book stores for exactly that reason.
Old 07-24-2009, 04:07 PM
mlees mlees is offline
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Brand new books can have a unique smell that fades with time, too.
Old 07-24-2009, 04:20 PM
Angel of the Lord Angel of the Lord is offline
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Agreed, mlees. Harper-Collins paperbacks circa 1993 are the best. Others are just as distinctive. It's a good smell .
Old 07-24-2009, 05:55 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Brand new books can have a unique smell that fades with time, too.
I think that one is mostly from the ink, not the paper.
Old 07-24-2009, 07:32 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Originally Posted by tr0psn4j View Post
. . . that nasty smell . . .
Nose of the beholder. Old and new books smell very different, and I love them both.
Old 07-24-2009, 07:45 PM
Stealth Potato Stealth Potato is offline
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I'm with jayjay and panache45. I don't think I've ever smelled an old book I didn't like. It's one of the two main reasons that I love used book stores. (The other, of course, being that the books are cheaper! It's a win-win! )
Old 07-24-2009, 08:32 PM
whiterabbit whiterabbit is offline
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I'm weird enough that I walk into a bookstore and stop just to smell the air. Mmm, books! Old books, new books, it doesn't matter. I love the smell of books.

There's a joke site somewhere advertising various sprays in smells like "new book" and "old book." It's too bad it's a joke because I would actually buy the stuff.
Old 07-24-2009, 08:55 PM
BrotherCadfael BrotherCadfael is offline
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From, of course, Buffy:

Ms Calendar: Honestly, what is it about [computers] that bothers you so much?

Giles: The smell.

Ms Calendar: Computers don’t smell, Rupert.

Giles: I know. Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell. Musty and, and, and, and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer, is, it … it has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible, it should be, um… smelly.

Last edited by BrotherCadfael; 07-24-2009 at 08:55 PM.
Old 07-24-2009, 11:31 PM
Serenata67 Serenata67 is offline
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I've noticed that library books sometimes have a nastier smell than books in a used book store. Perhaps the books in the store were better taken care of? I'm not sure. I love the smell of old books in used book stores, and some library books have that good smell... but some just reek.
Old 07-26-2009, 08:16 AM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
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Originally Posted by jayjay View Post
I LOVE the smell of old books. I've been in the habit of browsing in used book stores for exactly that reason.
Another one here who loves the smell of old books.


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