Building your scented bookshelf

Although the sun hasn’t set on summer quite yet, the nights are definitely drawing in. And the upside of this is that there is simply more time for reading. For cosying up with a hot chocolate (or a glass of red wine), with – in our case, certainly – a great book on perfume. There is so much that can be learned about aroma, smell and the art of perfumery itself), through words. Beyond that, extraordinarily, actually reading about smell can help rebuild neural pathways in the brain, strengthening your sense of smell.

With a groaning scented bookshelf of our own, we’ve just updated our FRAGRANT READS section – find it here – to include many of the recently-published volumes on fragrance, together with exciting ‘finds’ from our continuing quest for books on perfume and perfumery. There’s the briefest taster of our reviews, below – but can we recommend you head over to the ‘library’ itself, to find some fragrant reading matter for the quieter nights ahead…? (NB We list Amazon as stockist – but any of these in-print books can be ordered by your favourite independent bookshop. And we’d love you to support them, if you possibly can.)


Aphorisms of a Perfumer, by Dominique Ropion

Often called ‘the master of flowers’ or, sometimes, ‘the king of rose’, Dominique Ropion is one of the greatest perfumers working today. Having created fragrances for just about every house you care to mention, from the groundbreaking Mugler Alien to the heart-stoppingly stupendous Portrait of a Lady for Frédéric Malle, really, this book could simply list everything he’s ever done, and we’d be impressed. But reading this is akin to going for a walk through a scented garden with Ropion, as he gradually reveals snippets of the things he’s learned over the years. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a ‘nose’, and how we agree with his assertion that, ‘An event, place or encounter will always be associated with a perfume or scent, serving as an infallible and trusty aide-mémoire, a formula we do not always recognise but available if we need it.’ We’re sure so many people’s memories are forever connected with at least one of his fragrances…

Publisher: NEZ Littérature

At Amazon

Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture, by James McHugh

India is a country of sensory overwhelm – colours, sounds and in particular smells. This 300+ page goes back through millennia, looking at the fragrant element of Indian culture right back to the first millennium CE, explaining how perfumery influenced many of the materials, practices and ceremonies which are associated with India’s religious culture. (Did you know that evil literally ‘stank’, in Indian religion?) In an extremely readable style, the book looks at the gifts of flowers and incense, dives into Sanskrit texts on perfumery, explores in depth the significance of sandalwood and traverses the ‘smellscape’ of traditional South Asia, via poetry, literature, ancient texts (and even a smattering of Evelyn Waugh).

Publisher: Oxford University Press

At Amazon

The Smell of Fresh Rain, by Barney Shaw

Going in search of the meanings of smells (and how they help shape our lives), author Barney Shaw went on a journey of exploration for this book celebrating ‘The unexpected pleasures of our most elusive sense.’ From describing petrichor (the actual smell of fresh rain) to researching the scent of fresh paint, frying bacon and pondering the question of what three o’clock in the morning smells like, it’s a fascinating ride to be part of. And part of it you most definitely are, as merely reading this book expands your mind to the possibilities and scents you take forgranted every single day. We especially loved the observation that ‘Unlike sight, smell does not travel in straight lines, so it is valuable in environments when sight does not serve well…’ Something we teach as part of our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops (see EVENTS listings) – because as Helen Keller said, smell truly is ‘the fallen angel of the senses.’ We may not use it to seek out a sabre-toothed tiger or find food anymore, but the ability is there, or emotional reactions are built-in, unbidden. An excellent book for anyone interested in exploring their senses further (for flavour is so interconnected to smell, as we know, and addressed within the book); those who write about perfume or smell in any respect will be especially pleased by the chapter On the Tip of My Nose, which looks at the language of smell, and what we can do to improve our communication skills. Completely fascinating from start to fragrant finish!

Publisher: Icon Books

At Amazon

By Suzy Nightingale and Jo Fairley

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