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There's a tribute here to new book smell, but not to old book smell? How is that even possible? New book smell is excellent, I will admit, with the sharp, crisp tang of fresh ink and the clean aroma of unwrinkled pages, but old books are unmatched in my mind.

Of course, this is keeping in mind that I am the kind of person who stops as they enter a used bookstore to take a deep inhale of slightly musty, delightfully book-scented air. If my house could smell like a bookshop, I would be happy. Old book smell is unmatched by any other olfactory experience; the scent of aged glue and lightly browned pages, a worn leather cover, it’s just perfect. There's even a perfume maker who has crafted an old book-scented fragrance, In The Library.

New book smell, I suppose, comes in a close second, and this also isn’t to say that I have issues with people preferring Kindles and the like to books. If you prefer smooth plastic and buttons to paper and pages, that’s your call. I approve of the fact that you’re reading in general. But it is an argument that a book, however you choose to experience it, is much, much more than the mental exercise of reading. It's words on a page, a memory in the form of print, true, but it's also a sensory experience that should not be overlooked.

There is a science behind that old book smell, and it is bacteriology. Well, zoology, really, and perhaps microbiology to be most concise, since there are more microbial interlopers beyond the humble bacterium, but bacteriology figures most prominently therein. When we recall that most every exposed surface on Earth is coated with bacteria, our bodies, our belongings, every thing we see and contact in our daily lives, then it ought to come as no surprise that many of the smells we encounter actually signify to some degree the bacteria associated with the scent detected. Think of the smell of the ocean -- now there's a soup thick with life, there being hundreds of millions of cells living in every single drop, from the surface to the depths. And it turns out that even that distinctive ocean smell is bacteriological, the result of a large proportion of the wee creatures exuding a gas in the course of putting their metabolism through its paces.

And why would books be any different? They are manufactures of man, exposed by the transference from fingers, from particles of dust, from free-floating specks of life itself carried on the breeze, or hovering slowly, endlessly, in the still air. Perhaps some of those organisms have been clinging to what is now paper all the way from when it was within a tree. Mold and mildew play their role as well. These living particles occupy books as readily as they do any surface, and especially any source of organic matter, which might be broken down into components suitable to fuel further reproduction. And so the molecular machines which we call fundamental life do, bit by bit, break down the molecules which make ink and pages, and leave behind various waste products, and their own dead bodies, which are in turn quickly consumed by their fellows and their progeny. And all of this adds up to a steady stream of curious molecules exhibited in the air around the pages of an old book, which our olfactory receptors have been attuned to recognize and perhaps associate with memories of the youthful reading of the tomes of our ancestors.

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