In Honor of Banned Books Week: The Science Behind Our Love of Books
There are few scents as distinct and beloved as that of an old book. If you're like me, that musty, earthy smell seems to trigger something in your brain that makes you feel at home and comfortable. Nothing else smells quite like the pages of your favorite book, and you can thank chemistry for that.
Specifically, the smell of books can be attributed to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are essentially carbon based chemical compounds that can evaporate at room temperature. Books in particular can give off several hundred VOCs, usually associated with their paper, ink, and binding adhesive. Each printing of a book will likely have its own unique smell based on its particular combination of the type of paper used, how the paper was treated, what kind and color of ink was used in its printing, and the adhesive chosen to bind it together. Since there are so many factors and possible combinations of chemicals that can be used to print each book, it's no wonder that they each seem to have their own, distinct smell.
|Espresso Book Machine - small scale, modern printing press.|
|16th Century Printing Press at the Museum Plantin-Moretus, in Antwerp|