Saturday, 7 January 2012

Why I Write Books

00:02:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 10 comments
By Ashley Lister

The theme this week is children so it’s only right I should start by mentioning my son.

My son bought me a book for Christmas: Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson. It’s the paperback edition and when you hold the pages close to your nose, and flick your way through them, it smells of printer’s ink, processed pulp paper, and pure bibliophile excitement.

There’s no sweeter smell in the world.

There’s a part in Stephen King’s Christine where the main villains says there’s no smell in the world finer than the smell of a new car. That’s a character who has obviously never gotten drunk on the smell of new books.
I picked up a hardback graphic novel yesterday. It was in the newsagent, the first in a Hachette Part Work series based on Marvel superhero fiction. I grew up reading Spiderman so the book appealed to my inner child. And it was cheap. Ever the optimist, I figured I’d have time to enjoy a little nostalgic reading material over the holiday break.

As it is, I’ve only had time to sniff the pages.

But, what a smell!

The book is filled with colour illustrations. With the central pages open and my nose buried deep into the spine, I’ve come away from the experience dizzied by the bouquet.

These rich fragrances, the scent of deliciously sweet paper and chemical printing, are the smells that I associate with my childhood. These are the smells that shaped the adult I’ve become. I wanted to grow up to become someone who produced the wonderful collections of pages with the heady print that fills yours nostrils and tastes of words and leaves a flavour that sticks at the back of your throat whilst you’re exploring new worlds.

At some point I managed that goal.

The olfactory system provides us with one of the strongest and most undervalued links to memory. In fiction, the description of a scent can help immerse a reader in the physicality of the world being described – and yet it remains one of the most underused senses in written description. In the real world these aromas can help focalise goals or transport us back to experiences we went through as children.

In other words, the sense of smell is not to be sniffed at.


Lindsay said...

I know that smell! From the Beano and Dandy to the temple that is WH Smiths, that scent of paper and ink. I get the same in art shops, they smell different but amazing. But then when my mother was pregnant with me she craved carbolic soap so there was no chance for me. Kids comics are non existant nowadays and magazines cost a fiver and they have shitty plastic toys attached to tempt them. They have ruined it, it's ruined I tell you. Can of pop and a Beano, and my kids can't do that now without selling their bikes.

scottydotti said...

So true kids today wont have the same awesome memories we have childhood today surrounds xbox 360 and playstation 3.I bought my 17yr old some books for stocking fillers to encourage him to read and have a life outside games.I remember that smell of comics to dandy,beneo,beezer etc and Enid Blyton and acting them out with my pals those childhood memories thanks guys for walking me down memory lane and firing up the writer in me wanting to break free luv ya guys xxx u inspire me group ta nite all

Ashley R Lister said...

LIndsay & Dot,

A childhood without books sounds like something from a dystopian horror novel.

As you say, the cost of these items is prohibitive and the competition from such immersive gadgets as Xboxes and PS3s make the simple paper and print interface of a book seem somehow dated.

But the idea of a world without books makes me shudder.


Lara Clayton said...

This is one of the reasons why I refuse to buy a Kindle; you can't flick through brand new (or secondhand) pages, smelling the freshness (or getting lost in the mustiness).

A wonderful post that I'm sure many of us can relate to :)

Ashley R Lister said...


I like the idea of the Kindle, and it's given me a buzz watching people read my books on the devices, but they worry me for several reasons.

Obviously, the absence of book-smell is important. But there's also the worry that the Kindle overlords can remove titles from the devices should they deem them to be inappropriate.

This article explains one incident that occurred:

It sets a worrying precedent.


Ste said...

As everyone else said - a great trip down memory lane - just this morning I've had a special edition hardback turn up of a book that I love so much I've read the paperback into pulp! Nothing better than the feel and smell of a new book (or ones like my first edition Joseph Conrad which reeks of history) I agree with Lara - my books are like trophies that I like to be able to have in view, especially as being able to see them reminds you of their existence and encourages you to revisit them. Funny how we associate books with childhood as well - I still get pins and needles all over my cranium when I visit a library (a proper one, mind, none of these new-fangled multimedia centres thang yoo ver much)

Ash, have you ever read 'Perfume' by Patrick Suskind? The whole thing's based around smell - one of my faves. Great post, see yous next week ;)

MoonJumpingCow said...

Ecologically, I think e-book readers are the only way forward but I dread that a whole generation will soon miss out on said smell. The rancid 7 shilling Dickens books I bought at a fundraiser have experienced much more of life than I have and, grotty as they are, I can't help finding their whiffiness interesting. Despite their frailty, books are one of the least disposable items we ever buy - rarely ever ending up in a bin.

Lindsay, there's a fantastic comicbook shop called Thunderbirds on the Waterloo Rd/Lytham Rd roundabout.

Anonymous said...


I've got Perfume on my books to read pile. Several people have told me it's damned good. And I can understand the link with books and childhood. Reading is one of those maturation experiences that we all share, even when it's a solitary experience.

It's an essential part of growing up.


Ashley R Lister said...

Moon Jumping Cow,

(I feel really strange calling you that).

The idea of putting a book in a bin is quite a shocking image. Thanks for putting that in my head :-)

I know eBooks and eBook readers are the way forward. But I it's going to be a sad generation that doesn't get the pleasure of holding a paperback or passing a well-read book over to a friend.


Ste said...

Just found this at the college and thought it related uncannily well:

ebook, ibook ... but what about the printed book? No bleeps,

no clicks, no downloads, just

the printed page, lovingly

and expertly bound, the

physical object you can hold

in your hands. The sum of knowledge, experience,

culture and emotion in words and pictures,

a creative expression of life in all its rich

complexity. The book can be

as individual as the person

who created it, an original.

A limited edition of one.

Limited Edition at the School

of Creative Arts in Blackpool

includes inspirational work loaned from the Crafts Council Collection

and recent work from its own students.

Each exhibit highlights the importance of the

physical book in an age

of sterile electronic media,

demonstrating just how vibrant, tactile and

contemporary the printed page can be.

Exhibition open 9th - 27th January 10am - 5pm, The Gallery, University Centre, Blackpool and The Fylde College, Palatine Road, FY1 4DW