Thursday, June 18, 2009

Smell Any Good Books Lately?

  Those who, like me, are beginning to see the faint outlines of Thanatos on the far horizon may remember a malodorous movie from 1960, The Scent of Mystery, a film notable only for its inclusion of Smell-O-Vision, a process that would emit key scents at particular plot points, when certain characters appeared, or when the producers just wanted to exploit the gimmick for all it was worth (not much). Ads for the film proclaimed: "First they moved (1895)! Then they talked (1927)! Now they smell!" Oh, brother did that movie stink.

Aromarama preceded Smell-O-Vision by a year. It, too, stunk out theaters. Later, John Waters would use Odorama for his film, Polyester.

Sense enhancement for movies died the death it deserves.

But sense enhancement for books? The smell of literature?

smellofbooks.jpegIntroducing Smell of Books, a new aerosol spray from those wonderful folks at DuroSport Electronics.

"The DuroSport Electronics Company was founded by Oleg Tarlev of Moldova in 1962. An inventor by trade, Tarlev was an early pioneer in the use of steam to power home appliances. Tarlev hoped to apply his engineering expertise to develop a line of steam-powered consumer electronics.

"After a failed experiment with a steam powered television convinced Tarlev that steam and vacuum tubes do not mix, he quickly abandoned the idea and began developing more conventional electronic devices."

Tarlev is a visionary. Seeking a solution to the problem of the increasing cost of consumer electronics, he had a breakthrough insight: the smaller a consumer electronics product, the higher the cost, so, naturally, he reasoned that the reverse should be true. Hence the closet-sized DuroSport digital audio player, loaded with everything except a washer and dryer.

But I digress.

I love the smell of plastic in the morning. It smells like victory. But the good folks at DuroSport don't share my love of polymer chains and have come up with a product to meet the needs of today's reader who may love books but not books themselves, has a Kindle but misses the aroma of a freshly opened new book, old book, or rare book. They understand that a book is more than the text and the sum of its parts; reading is a gestalt activity. The product is designed to enhance the ebook reading experience.

I do think, however, that they've missed the essential here. Though Smell of Books is available in Classic Musty, Scent of Sensibility, Eau You Have Cats, New Book Smell, and Crunchy Bacon can-bacon.jpeg(for those, I suppose, who are crazy for books but not whole hog for 'em), it really needs to take its cue from Smell-O-Vision.

Imagine reading Wuthering Heights and your head fills with the aroma of soil, heath, and rain in the atmosphere. Or, you're reading Gone With The Wind and every time Scarlet O'Hara appears, the sweet, heady perfume of magnolias fills your nostrils. The possibilities are endless.

Yet there are certain books where it would be far better to read about the scent within a scene and imagine it rather than actually smell it. I'm thinking A Confederacy of Dunces. Protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly, who revels in his own flatulence, is not someone I actually want to hang out with, much less smell. There are probably many characters in fiction who have bad breath, body order or smelly feet but their authors determined that demerits for poor personal hygiene would not serve the theme and plot. Few are aware, for instance, that Jay Gatsby smells like dead fish. Fitzgerald was wise to ignore it; it would have thrown the entire novel off balance. Authors constantly have to make creative decisions like this, what to leave out as important as what to include.

(The redolence of a decaying big mouth bass would be perfect, however, for the scene in The Godfather when Luca Brasi symbolically returns to the Corleone estate after his ill-fated meeting with Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo and Bruno Tattaglia).

Smell of Books is destined for failure. In fact, due to sharp protest from the Author's Guild and reports that the Chinese company supplying the aerosol cans to DuroSport sold them cans recycled from Smell of Cars, Smell of Books has been recalled.

But surely there are off-label uses. Though Smell of Books discourages it, it can be used as an underarm deodorant. A quick oral spritz before that first kiss? The romance of literature! Throw a little SPF in there and it's perfect for reading at the beach while acquiring a nice bronze burnish to the skin.

These are all fine uses and can be a real boon to those who, like me, aspire to be a Total Book Person. And provide a force field of pheromones to discourage non-readers from approaching and disturbing us.

I'm thinking Incredible Incunabula, the scent of books so old, rare and expensive that non-book people recoil in horror and run at first whiff. Put enough of us together in a room and we'll smell like the inner sanctum  of the Bodleian Library. Or the inside of Dracula's castle.

"The book is the life, Mr. Renfield."

A pen-salute to Jeanne Jarzombek, The Book Prowler, for putting me on the scent.

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