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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

That Musty Smell


When I got into a tussle with SFist, a corporate/local website, someone on the site called me a “noted lover of the way old books smell.”

I thought it was an incredible characterization, both for its impertinence and its accuracy. I do love old books, libraries, archives, and manuscripts. I was at the Judah L. Magnes Museum on Monday looking at its rare book collection; I got to hold in my hand a book transcribed in the 16th century. Let me tell you, it was a thrill.

So I was astounded that someone could hold that love against me. I had never considered an appreciation for old books an insult, but to a twenty or thirty something who was being deliberately snarky to draw attention to a website, liking something other than hyperlinks is apparently an anachronism. The Internet is clean, fast, interactive and involves very few bodily functions. (like smell.)

I got a chance this week to combine the old and the new. As part of research for my book, I read a lot about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It plays a big role in the last third of the book and I have one scene-based chapter where the walls are tumbling down and the fire rages.

I went on Ebay to browse its old books, which I had never done before. I noticed that there were a slew of books about the earthquake, many of them first editions published in 1906. Before I knew what my fingers were doing, I had bid on about five of them! With bids going from 50 cents to $15, I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

Well you know where this is going. So far I have won every bid. I now have a “collection” of earthquake books. My library has a “focus.” None have arrived yet, but I am looking forward to taking a deep breath to smell the must and age emanating from the pages.

1 comment:

ed said...

Well, let me just say that THIS thirtysomething digs the smell of old books. But then I suspect I was among the last of the analog generation to remember the way things were pre-Internet and cell phones. Hell, I was one of the last film school grads to learn how to cut on a flatbed, which is sadly also going the way of the dinosaur (however imperfect it was).