Nose Dive by Harold McGee – a joyous celebration of our most under-appreciated sense

There are some books that really transcend the boundaries – appealing not only to those already immersed in the subject, but to the wider public – and Nose Dive by Harold McGee is most definitely one of the best we’ve read. So wonderfully connecting the dots between the worlds of smell and taste, it’s no wonder the Sunday Times named it their 2020 Food Book of the Year, calling it ‘A joyously nerdy study of how and what we smell, the effect on our appetites and much more.’

Having worked with some of world’s most innovative chefs, including Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal; McGee has dedicated over a decade of his life to our most overlooked sense, and here gives us not only the facts about the chemistry of food, cooking and smells; but widens this (and encourages us to widen our nostrils) by explaining the science of everyday life and the various whiffs we may encounter along the way.

Think of this as a manual to re-connect you to your nose, heightening your enjoyment and understanding of food but, much more than that – enriching every single part of your life. Along the way, McGee introduces us to the aroma chemicals that surround us, which make up our entire world and colour the way we experience it. It’s a joyous book that should be read by cooks, perfumers, fragrance-addicts and absolutely anyone who has been struck by a smell, wondered what it was and wanted to know more.

Something we especially loved was how clearly this information is laid out – so it can be easily referred to. Each smell mentioned is laid out in a chart of its name/species, the component smells to identify it with, and the molecules that create those smells. Gleefully, some have a column respresenting ‘Also found in’, so we learn, for example, that Some Smells of Cat Urine are like blackcurrant, which is caused by methylbutyl sulfanyl formate, and can also be found in beer and coffee. More fragrantly, many flower varieties are described, along with plant pongs, animals, humans, food (raw, cooked or cured) and the scent of space itself.

Managing to be both scholarly yet immediately accessible, it’s his passion for that subject that really sporings off the page and makes you want to run out into the street and start smelling things with a new appreciation for what you might find. Whether he has you bending to smell wet pavements and marvelling at ambergris, exploring the fruit-filled Himilayan mountain ranges, literally stopping to smell the roses or cautiously approaching a durian fruit… this is a celebration of something the majority of us take so foregranted – until we have it taken away from us. Witness the huge rise in smell-related news stories, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Perhaps now the media are focussing on our sense of smell at last, and realising how important it is to our enjoyment and understanding of every day life, there will be further books like this to enjoy a wider readership than they may have previously. And maybe that will lead to proper funding for the much-needed further research we still so desperately need. Now that’s something to celebrate!

If your intrest in pongs has been piqued, perhaps you’d like to perfuse the many other books about smell and the senses we have reviewed for our Fragrant Reads bookshelf…?

By Suzy Nightingale

World Book Day – fragrant reads to fill your bookshelves with

It’s World Book Day so we’re celebrating by perusing our Perfume Society bookshelf, which is filled with Fragrant Reads – from novels and books of poetry inspired by scent to technical tomes and books that explore the history of fragrance in so many fascinating ways.

Here are just a few of our ‘must reads’ to get your nose stuck in to…

Poetry

 

Atomizer poems, by Elizabeth A.I. Powell
A professor of writing and literature at Northern Vermont University, Elizabeth Powell writes poems that immerse us in what fellow author Dianne Seuss describes as ‘the perfumery of seduction.’ Harnessing her sense of smell and recalling often painful memories through scented snapshots, we are plunged into her world, seeing the world not only through her eyes, but through Powell’s nose.

 

The Book of Scented Things – 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume, Edited by Jehanne Dubrow
The culmination of a unique aromatic and poetical experiment – an anthology based on this original concept of deliberately provoking with perfume and collecting the results. Hence we discover poems of deeply personal childhood memories, that relate directly to a sense of place and more deep-seated philosophical longings.

 

The power of smell

 

The Smell of Fresh Rain, by Barney Shaw
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 journey to be part of. Merely reading this book expands your mind to the possibilities and scents you take forgranted every single day.

 

A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman
The title doesn’t do this justice: Diane Ackerman’s writing is exquisite, exploring and explaining not just the sense of smell, but all the senses. In the first chapter – Smell – she looks at scent and memory, at roses, at sneezing, at the way our health (and what we eat) impacts on our body odour. Something to read that shakes the very foundations of how you’ll look at smell and fragrance.

 

Perfume-themed novels

 

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Traversing decadently through the decades in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, Grace discovers she’s the beneficiary of a famed fragrant muse who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers to immortalise her in three groundbreaking fragrances. As she finds out more, Grace is forced to choose between the image of what society experts of her, and who she really is…

 

The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson
‘I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ We couldn’t agree more, and Maggie was inspired to write this novel by spending time in our own Perfume Society office! The central character, Polly, is a perfume blogger who loses herself in the world of fragrance while her own world falls to pieces around her – something many of us can connect to.

Why not have a good browse of our Fragrant Reads for more suggestions and reviews of scent-themed books we think you’ll fall in love. We’re always adding more, so having treated yourself to a tome for World Book Day, do check back often!

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant books to snuggle up & fall in love with

There’s all manner of fragrantly themed books on our shelf of scented reading, but did you know that among the many stunning coffee-table books and more scientific, technical tomes; there are a number of romance novels and floral volumes we think you’ll fall in love with?

Spring is just around the corner, we know, but until it fully blooms we’re still somewhat in hibernation mode. So why not grab a cup of coffee or indulge yourself with hot chocolate, wrap yourself in a cosy blanket and take some time to snuggle up with one of these brilliant perfume-related books…?

 

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

This ‘richly evocative novel is a ‘secret history of scent, memory and desire’ and begins in the 1950s with newly-married socialite Grace Munroe’s life being turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious letter, naming her as the beneficiary in the will of a woman called Eva D’Orsay. Requested to attend the offices of the lawyers handling her inheritence, the main problem is that Grace has never even heard of this woman. But her journey of discovery will lead to the heart of the perfume world, travelling to Paris and exploring the life and death of this shadowy benefactor who, it turns out, was the darling of high society in the 1920s. Traversing decadently through the decades in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, Grace discovers Eva was a famed fragrant muse, and someone who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers to immortalise her in three groundbreaking fragrances. As Grace finds out more, and indulges her own senses, she will be changed forever when forced to choose between the image of what society experts of her, and who she really is…

Buy it at waterstones.com

 

The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson

‘I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ So begins this novel by Maggie Alderson, and we couldn’t agree more. Maggie was inspired to write this novel by spending time in our own Perfume Society office, attending launches and meeting perfumers, learning the history of perfume and developing a burning passion for it along the way. Central character, Polly, is a perfume blogger who loses herself in the world of fragrance while her own world falls to pieces around her – something many of us can empathise with. Polly, having grown up surrounded by the beautiful perfume bottles of her ultra glam (ex-model) mother, and learning to explore the world by sniffing ‘…everything!’ she is now distracting herself with, among other things, ‘Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer.’ Completely gripping, the story of a life in crisis and wonderfully observed, it’s a perfect cosy read for anyone who also experiences the world through smell (that’ll be most of you, then!)

Buy it at waterstones.com

 

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

Any novel that contains the phrase ‘perfume is the truth’ has us whooping for joy, and in her beautiful novel, Caboni reminds us that scent has the greatest power to ignite our memories – something the main character, Elena Rossini, knows only too well. Granted a rare gift of a superior sense of smell, Elena’s passion for perfume has been passed down through generations of her family; but as this ability means painful memories about her mother are carried on the breeze, she can never truly escape her past. When a betrayal destroys her dreams, fragrant events are set in motion when Elena’s best friend invites her to Paris, and she grabs at the chance to start afresh. Searching for a composition within her family’s historic archives, Elena’s new goal becomes the replication of a secret scented recipe that nobody in her family managed to master…

Buy it at Penguin

 

By Suzy Nightingale

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni is the scent-themed book we’re snuggled up with right now – why not make yourself a brew and get cosy while you read our review…?

 

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

****

Any novel that contains the phrase ‘perfume is the truth’ has us whooping for joy, and in her beautiful novel, Caboni reminds us that scent has the greatest power to ignite our memories – something the main character, Elena Rossini, knows only too well.

Granted a rare gift of a superior sense of smell, Elena’s passion for perfume has been passed down through generations of her family; but it’s a power that can all too often overwhelm her, as this ability means painful memories about her mother are carried on the breeze, and so she can never truly escape her past. When a betrayal destroys her dreams, fragrant events are set in motion when Elena’s best friend invites her to Paris, and she grabs at the chance to start afresh.

Lured by the promise of  immersing herself in the world of scent once again, the ancient art of composing perfume beckons our protagonist. Searching for a secret recipe within her family’s historic archives, Elena’s new goal becomes the replication of a composition noone in her family managed to master. Having met a man who’s harbouring his own clandestine past; before long, she’s following the scent trail toall manner of mysterious discoveries. Because, as she was told all those years ago:

Remember Elena, perfume is the truth. The only thing that really counts. Perfume never lies, perfume is what we are, it’s our true essence…’

From the landscape of Florence to the sun-drenched lavender fields, this a book to delight all perfume-lovers – a novel that you’ll dive in to, nose first.

Buy it from Penguin U.K. (BLack Swan imprint, 2016)

In the mood for some more perfume-related books? We have a whole scented bookshelf of Fragrant Reads – from non-fiction historical explorations to contemporary criticism, with a plethora of perfume-related reading you can get your nose stuck in, right now!

By Suzy Nightingale