Books often have a distinct smell. There's that mildly intoxicating "old book smell" that I wrote about earlier - the result of compounds in the ink, paper, and glue of books decomposing with age. Another pleasing aroma can arise from the pages of books in which dried flowers, such as roses or violets or lilacs, were carefully pressed. However, you'll discover that some books can have a not-so-fresh scent.
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Let's say that you are a nonsmoker who lent one of your books to a friend whose roommate chain-smokes. Or at a sidewalk sale, you happily discover an excellent vintage cookbook that unfortunately has the pungent aroma of a food that you can't imagine anyone ever eating. Or say the book that you now possess strongly reeks of a long-neglected cat litter box. Or it smells of mildew. What do you do?
In his article, "Is It More Than 'Old Book Smell?,'" antiquarian bookseller Joachim Koch gives you a technique to try. Using tips gleaned from the Dartmouth College Library, Koch says you should:
1. Find a container that is big enough to hold your malodorous book, then find a second larger container that has a lid. Be sure that neither container has been used to store food or liquid.
2. Place an odor-absorbing material, such as baking soda, charcoal briquettes, or fresh kitty litter, in the larger container.
3. Open the book and place it flat within the smaller container. If you're removing the stink from more than one book, you can place them upright inside the smaller container, with their pages slightly fanned out.
4. Place the smaller container inside the larger container, and close the lid on the larger container. After several days have passed, check on the book(s). If bad odors still waft from the pages, close up the container again and let the books sit for a while longer. Sooner or later, the offending smell will be no more.
Koch further advises that, if you wish to keep the bad smell from returning, you should make sure air circulates well in the room where you keep your books. He also recommends you control the temperature and humidity in the room, and urges that you dust your books regularly in order to prevent a buildup that can encourage the growth of mold and mildew.
Now you can enjoy your books without having to hold them at arm's length!