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What Should Classic Books Smell Like?

People often wax poetic about the smell of books—the scent of old ink and paper is so eternally popular and beloved that you can even get it in perfume form. But Adam Levin’s upcoming novel Bubblegum is trying something a little different—the dust jacket of this book smells like bubblegum. This, of course, raises the question: what if all books were scented to reflect their contents? Kind of like smell-o-vision, but for reading. This could be the next big trend in literature, so here are some classics reimagined with smells.


Smells like the sea, but a very specific, terrible sea scent: low tide. A cross between a dying animal left out in the sun, plus salt, plus farts. The stench of man’s hubris and man’s homoeroticism (plus farts). Apparently it’s a great read if you can get past the smell, but many people can’t.

Little Women

Only the warmest and most nostalgic smells: gingerbread, pine trees, fresh snow. The scent of a warm fireplace and drying flowers and wind floating through an open window. Smells that make you feel emo about your picturesque childhood in 1800s Massachusetts with your three talented sisters and⁠—oh that wasn’t actually your childhood? Bummer for you.

Mrs. Dalloway

Right away, you catch the scent of flowers but it’s suddenly obscured by… gasoline? Or gunpowder? Or maybe an obscure smell from your youth that you barely recognize but brings strong emotions? The smell is hard to put your finger on because it keeps changing, and every time you think you’ve got it, it becomes something else.


Smells like rats!

The Picture of Dorian Gray

This book is wearing a whole bottle of perfume, so much that it makes your eyes water (but it still smells kind of good). However, underneath all the perfume you can make out the smell of decay, something sweet and gross. Carry this book with you for a day and you’ll be smelling like expensive perfume (and a constant reminder of your own mortality) for a week.

Wuthering Heights

Ah, the crisp scent of the moors. Smells like dirt and heather and the air before snowfall. The kind of smells that really get you amped, like just completely full of unstoppable chaotic energy, energy that most people will rightly fear. Some people love this smell, but others think it’s confusing and a little much. Both are valid.

Les Misérables

Smells like bread you can never have, which is to say it smells like particularly delicious bread. Bread you’d be tempted to ruin your life over. Also, a hearty dose of the mid-1800s French sewer system. You might wish there was a little less of the French sewer system, but Victor Hugo would strongly disagree. In fact, he’d probably argue there could be a little more sewer. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

A delicious home-cooked meal. Roasted spring lamb, mint jelly, potatoes, peas, and salad fresh from the garden. And for dessert? Blackberries sprinkled with sugar. What could be more pleasant than that? Actually, I’m feeling a bit odd now. Everything is going dark. I’m starting to lose consciousness, I’m⁠—.

The post What Should Classic Books Smell Like? appeared first on Electric Literature.

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