You think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding.
I first heard about this book from Grub Street writing instructor Chip Cheek, who highly recommended it for all writers. He said that although we try to involve the senses on the page, we so often overlook the sense of smell; this book describes nearly 2,000 perfumes in spectacularly evocative ways. Read it, and you will never think of scent the same way again.
He's right. And on top of that, it is a joy to read.
One perfume is described as the olfactory equivalent of a man you can't talk to for more than 30 seconds without checking your watch. Another is "like spraying Glade on strawberry-flavored cotton candy." Smelling an old favorite is "like meeting an old high school teacher who had a decisive influence on my life." And, picking a 5-star (highest) rated scent at random:
...it has the haunting, outdoors witchiness of tall pines leaning into the night -- a bitter oakmoss inkiness, a dry cedar crackle, and a low, delicious, pleasing sweet amber, like the call of a faraway candy house. Lulling and unsettling in equal measure...
The two-word scent summaries accorded to each scent are also pithily resonant: pale floral, coffee lavender, woody vanilla... but also burial wreath, watery lemons, fresh nothing, crap jasmine, and mango raincoat. Ever been at a loss as to how to effectively insult someone? Read the 1-star reviews in this book and hesitate no more.
I bought the paperback version but am wondering if the e-book is fully searchable, in which case I'll probably buy a second copy in electronic format. The excerpt page on the book's website has a link to the less-recent hardcover edition on Google books, so that may do the trick for now when I want to search for a particular scent-keyword (almond, rose, vile).
I spent all of last night quoting sections of this to my husband. He told me to buy everything the authors had ever written, but of course they don't write fiction, they are just (just!) experts and passionate devotees of perfume. He was disappointed, and a little stunned. Because who wouldn't want to read a short story by the author who wrote: I believe that men who smell like this must grow a 5-o'clock shadow every day by eleven.
Wait, I didn't get that quote exactly right, they said it better...
And it's not in the Google books version. Damn. I'm going to have to buy that e-book.