Do Your Books Smell Their Best?


“Customers will buy our books to read them” was just one of our naive assumptions when we began selling books. We also believed that we could make a lot of money selling books and that there really was a Santa Claus.

We can’t say how many customers who buy online from Dog Lovers Bookshop never read the books we sell them. What we do know is that, when we had a bricks-and-mortar store in midtown Manhattan, some of our customers told us that they bought books primarily for decoration, to give their homes that warm “bookish” feeling. To those customers, the appearance and smell of a book were frequently more important than the book’s content. An attractive binding or the original dust jacket often made the sale, as did a book’s lack of something material: odor.

At the very least these putative nonreaders reinforced our belief in the importance of maintaining our stock in the best possible condition. What’s good for books before they’re bought and paid for is good for them in their new homes. Most obvious is keeping books free of surface dirt and dust. Routine, gentle dusting with a soft, lint-free cloth is essential for the well-being of books, the environment in which they live, and the people who handle them.

A factor that cannot be overemphasized, though it’s too often ignored, is smell. A book may smell unpleasant from exposure to damp, smoke, pungent cooking, and the combination of dust, dirt, age, and deterioration. Fortunately, it’s a very rare bad-smelling book that can’t be helped.

In our book The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2002) we describe our favorite method : the stinky box. The basic method employs a clean, dry carton – we favor liquor boxes from our neighborhood merchants and the plastic or archival storage containers available from Brodart and many office supply dealers. Avoid cartons that have contained food products. The carton should be big enough to let the books undergoing treatment stand upright and open (with proper support). Joining the books, one or more solid room air fresheners; we favor the “outdoorsy” scents. Close the container and give the books and the fresheners time alone together. Check every 24 hours or so at first; let the books breathe for a while outside the box to see if the treatment has worked or if another session is needed. We’ve waited as long as three weeks for improvement and always found it worthwhile.

If you object to using air freshening products, try good old-fashioned baking soda (but not the box that’s been open in the refrigerator!). It does the trick, though it may absorb odors very slowly.

If you use a carton that is clean, dry, and the right size, but it doesn’t close tightly (which speeds the process), or if you object to an air freshener’s scent escaping from the stinky box, enclose the carton in plastic sheeting or a plastic sack. By all means be sure that your stinky box sits where it cannot get wet or knocked about. Books that smell better don’t need creased pages or bumped corners!

Bern and Margot are co-owners of Dog Lovers Bookshop at http:// www.dogbooks.com, and the co-authors of “Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers”, St. Martin’s Press, and they are consultants to the Products Division of The Brodart Company. For more of their book care information go to http:// www.shopbrodart.com, and click on “How-Tos and Guides”.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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