Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Books, Scent and Memories

A while ago I was lucky enough to take a course in African American literature which was conducted by a visiting lecturer from the US.
Sadly these days I seldom have time to read novels like before, so this course and in particular the books we studied, have always remained a special – and all too short - experience for me.
Some of the books we studied are widely read international classics but there are other fine works of African American fiction which might not have been as widely read, but can still be considered iconic in their own right: (Cane by Jean Toomer, A Gathering of Old Men, The Living is Easy, The Wake of the Wind by J California Cooper.)
Some of the books I had packed away for years (others I lent to friends) and I came across them recently while tidying up. Just seeing the covers immediately brought back a flood of pleasant memories. Not only of the actual enjoyment I derived from reading the books, but of that special time and place in life when I could truly get lost in beautiful, life-changing fiction.

If the sight of long-lost books can raise such powerful and pleasant memories, how should one go about creating a perfume inspired by them?
What is the best way to capture the essence of a novel’s most memorable character through scent? Or would you instead be inspired by a particular chapter, the description of a scent or a meal, or perhaps the actual time period of the novel’s setting?

Incidentally, the actual smell of old books is believed to be caused by a large number of volatile chemical compounds including lignin (derived from the ground wood used to make the papers) which is said to contribute to the distinct vanilla-like odour that some old books emit. This and other fragrant compounds from old books – glue, resins, ink – would be interesting to incorporate into the overall perfume as well.