July 2, 2011

The Scent of Knowledge

"The knowledge gained from a computer... has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible... it should be... well, smelly." - Joss Whedon (from BTVS)

The summer before I began kindergarten, my mother enrolled me in a reading program at our local library. For my first choice, I selected an old, hardcover book. I remember the feel of the worn, coated canvas, stringy at the binding; the musty smell of paper; the raised words. The book was Clyde Monster, a tale of a young monster afraid of people hiding under his bed at night. Since I knew that I would never be crazy enough to hide beneath a monster’s bed, I logically concluded that one would never hide beneath mine. It was at that moment I fell in love with fiction.

I pick up books from my childhood, from the library, or even second-hand bookstores. I feel the worn pages and imagine the lives of people who held those books before me. I can inhale the scent of a book, whether it's yellowed, wine-stained, or brand new, the scent triggers memory. Where was I when I last smelled that particular scent - a coffee shop? A park? The corner of my attic? Perhaps my grandmother's apartment, when I was a child. Not likely, since her apartment always smelled like margarine tubs, canned cat food, and boiled meat. But you get the idea.

The memories arise, come crawling over my skin like some forgotten rush of life, and send me spiraling back to the moment I first felt the cottony pages of McBain's 87th Precinct Novels, or the cool gloss of a just-released book jacket. While I don't expect computers to be scratch-n-sniff any time soon, I know that the experiences I remember most clearly are the ones littered with scents. I agree with Joss Whedon. Knowledge should be smelly.

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