Tuesday 9 September 2008

Old book smell

This post isn't going to be about old book smell per se but it does deserve some discussion because the copy of Ellis Peters' A Morbid Taste for Bones that I just finished is quite fragrant with this particular perfume.

Old book smell tends to be found in mass market paperbacks older than 20 years, whose pages are yellowing, and which have often spent much of their lives mouldering in someone's damp basement or cottage. It's a delicious smell for those of us who love books and aren't, gawd forfend, allergic to book dust.

I think I love old book smell because so many of the books I read in Junior High School (when I regularly stayed awake all night reading) were old and stinky; a friend of mine used to feed my reading habit with old books from her basement, and that includes many of the texts I had to write school book reports on.

Indeed, the first and before now last time I read anything by Ellis Peters, it was the 80s; I was between 12 and 14 years old; I was wearing black jeans, a leather jacket, incredibly big hair and a bad attitude; and had to write two book reports on two books by one author. M., the Jr. High friend, produced Ellis Peters' A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs and Funeral of Figaro out of the cavernous depths of her ill-lit basement and I went to work. I recall enjoying these books but while I read a lot back then, I don't think I was yet smart enough to make a point of reading more books by authors I found myself enjoying.

Somehow I recently had the sense to get the first Brother Cadfael mystery by Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones, from Bookmooch and I'm bursting so I'll just say: I LOVED THIS BOOK!!! I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a long, long time.

The writing was fantastic and as a nice change from all the chronologically fractured narratives of contemporary fiction I've been reading lately, pleasantly straightforward. In perfect harmony with these things was how plot-driven, yet patiently plot-driven, this novel was. Finally, the mysterious goings-on were opaque enough to keep me hooked but never so fantastical and unlikely to make me doubt either Brother Cadfael or Peters. I can't wait to read the next one - because luckily for me, there are at least ten more books about this 12th century Benedictine monk/savvy and subtle solver of murders and mayhem.

(Hopefully, the next one I get my hands on will also be redolent of old book smell - just to further add to the atmosphere.)

In an interesting aside about the blogosphere, I was searching about for some info on this novel on that series of tubes known as the interwebs and found a blog called "Catholic Fiction: Reading suggestions for the undergraduate student at a Catholic university" (said university being the University of St. Thomas at Houston). I was wary of reading what I assumed would be doctrinally conservative reviews of books, especially given how much of a maverick Brother Cadfael is (quietly so, but a maverick nonetheless).

However, the reviews I read were entirely balanced and seemed most interested in simply providing access to books with Catholic themes, entirely in line with doctrine or not. Indeed, there were a number of really good books discussed on this site, including books by Frank O'Connor, Muriel Spark, and J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, the last of which I loved but was apparently too young at the time (15?) to get any references to religion. Bookphilia.com: schooled again.


Anonymous said...

I also didn't realize when I was young that it would be a good idea to search out books by an author I liked. Isn't that strange, it seems like such a natural thing to do but I didn't start collecting books by one author or another until I was almost done with college.

Bookphilia said...

Well, we know better now. I wonder if our bookishness somehow impaired our ability to exercise such obvious common sense!