Can We Fondle e-Books, Like Paper Books? We Fondle Cars, Don’t We?

I’ve been sniffing e-readers. I don’t detect any significant difference in the fragrance of a Kindle compared to a Nook or iPad, but the covers seem to acquire olfactory personalities.

Biologists say that in spite of our romantic notions about winsomeness our attractions to each other are largely governed by pheromones. We smell each other and that’s our romantic destiny. I can’t smell e-ink. The pungent gum arabic is gone, but considering my late-life allergies it may be just as well.

Nostalgics have been lamenting the imminent demise of the book, a well nigh perfect device that over time acquires a distinct odor. But in their lamentations they usually fail to mention that soon we shall be able to walk into shops and make our own book on the spot. And so we will be more personally involved than ever.

I’m well acquainted with book gardens; they’ve often made me sneeze. I know they often harbor silverfish-carpet sharks-and other critters, just as we harbor bacteria and mites and the like. I love books, even if they haven’t always returned the favor. Have I fondled books? Of course. Will I miss the privilege? Sure, as the forest misses its trees.

And that’s how I got the somewhat less than bright idea of sniffing e-readers. It was, on the whole, a disappointing experience. But I did fantasize about their acrid smell when burning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about e-readers and the e-book. But I’ve been wondering to what extent we relate to the traditional book because of its odor. They say a cover often sells a book. I’ve never seen anyone sniffing a book, but then again we don’t sniff each other, not conspicuously, that is.

A new book may smell of its cover varnish or the warehouse where it has been stored. Its various kinds of ink, glue and paper stock will have their own scents. After a while, it will smell of where it has been and with whom it has been consorting. After my wife got an order of moldy used books from a Florida distributor she said, “No more used books from the tidewater.” Indeed I ran across a wonderful web site in my researches called They had located some Slovene scientists who told them exactly how books smell and why, and you can read all about it by clicking here.

I disquieted a few sales clerks in my olfactory excursions. Remembering how my various typewriters smelled, I thought perhaps there might be a distinct Apple fragrance or an Amazon scent. I thought Barnes & Noble’s Nook might smell of the chain’s ubiquitous cafes. I’m sure a forensic scientist, a CSI, might detect the odor of peoples’ fingers. I don’t want to go down that road. I know my old Underwood smelled of Three-in-One oil, and I recognize the gluey odor of my well read Yeats and Auden. But I have no doubt the varied virtues of cyberspace will rub off on these poets and become part of their experience.

I know bookstores that smell of dust, mold, dead mice and God knows what else in their ancient walls. And all of that is transferred more or less to their books. Hopefully less.

I suppose you could argue these e-readers will be better for our health than paper books, but some people have their doubts about that. They’re worried about our exposure to electronic screens. I’ve always thought we’re already suffering from overexposure to each other. I can remember quite a few eyes to which I would rather not have been exposed, and I can’t imagine they did my health much good. I’m sure we irradiate each other, I just don’t know with what. The doubters are also worried about those electronic dumps in China and their effects on the environment. Did they worry as much about deforestation and its effects on the environment? I didn’t, not until I was middle-aged and worried about everything.

The e-readers don’t have anything like a new car smell, but we know a good detailer can make your old car smell new. What if the makers inject pheromones into them?

I don’t know if we’re going to enjoy an olfactory relationship with these doohickeys. I guess it depends on where we employ them, but when you think about it we’re well accustomed to looking at things under glass and many of us look at the world every day as if it existed in a glass case. I know quite a few people who would prefer me under glass.

Oh, and don’t ask me which e-reader I like best, because I’m as confused as I am about smart phones, which is why I’m still using a dumb cell phone and reading paper books. E-readers have my rapt attention but not yet my money.