May 09, 2019
What’s That Smell
Smell is a powerful thing. We’ve known for a long time that smell is closely linked to memory. Maybe the smell of cookies makes you think about baking with your grandmother, or perhaps the smell of freshly cut grass brings back thoughts of playing outside with friends.
For me, it’s the smell of books.
You see, my father worked at Friesens for thirty-three years before retiring in 2010. When I was a young child, I would give him a big hug whenever he came home from work, and I always noticed that he had a certain smell. To me, it seemed rich and organic, almost a bit earthy.
I started working at Friesens in the spring of 2008, and one of the first things that struck me was the smell in the building – in particular when I walked through production. There’s a unique smell when you combine ink, paper, and glue. It brought back memories of my childhood and home and reading books with my parents. The plant is a busy place, full of horns honking, bells ringing, and forklifts zipping around, yet walking through production has a calming effect on me despite the busy atmosphere.
It seems I’m not alone when it comes to appreciating the smell of books. A number of studies have been done on this topic, and different people seem to sense different smells when it comes to books. Some people identify a sweet smell. Others can smell vanilla, flowers, or almonds. The explanation
for this is actually quite scientific, since all of these smells can be attributed to the reaction of certain chemical compounds in
the paper, glue, and ink.
At Friesens, we use soy-based inks (which is likely a contributor to that earthy smell I mentioned) on a variety of different kinds of papers, and we print using an assortment of printing methods. Not surprisingly, when you sniff different types of books we produce, they have different smells. Go ahead and open a few books on your shelf and give them a sniff; you’ll see what I mean. Chances are, this will be a pleasant experience for you. Now put your nose up to your e-reader and take a big breath in. It’s not quite the same, is it?
Don’t get me wrong; e-readers have their place. However, reading a book just seems to be a more immersive experience. The look of the ink on the paper, the feeling of the pages in your hands, and, perhaps most importantly, the smell as you flip through it. It affects more of your senses and all of this combines to draw you further into the story. Perhaps for a
short time, it’s as if the book is an extension of you. Smell is a big part of that feeling.
I now have a two-year-old daughter of my own, and she loves books. I hope that when she’s older, she will fondly remember giving me a hug when I get home from work and breathing in that deep, rich smell of a printed book.