Have you ever come across them? Me neither - not till yesterday. I mean, I had, like everyone else, run across the phenomenon of people savouring the smell of a book. Indeed, I've done it myself. When I was a boy I had this cricket book - by Charles Fortune - that had such a distinctive aroma that I would treat myself to it from time to time. At some point I parted with the book, but years later I acquired another copy, and then another, and both of these had that same smell. When I open either of them now, it makes me think of 5 Cawston Street, Bulawayo, and Proust - that's Kobus Proust, a neighbour at number 7 who took a long time over things and loved the smell of a book.
I digress - back to the Society of Book Smellers. I attended a meeting of the Cambridge chapter (sic) last night, and it was some experience. Arriving a little late, I had missed the opening proceedings - in which, as I understand it, everyone very slowly and deliberately opens the volume they have brought with them while breathing in deeply and saying 'aaaahhh' - and I found the assembled company engaged in Swap-and-Smell, the main order of business of the evening. One man near me was inhaling from a copy of Barrington Moore's The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, which he'd obtained from the woman next to him in exchange for The Toby Twirl Annual. The two of them were agreeing that these volumes had much in common smell-wise, though not in other respects. From all around there was a great sniffing and a sighing and a rustling of pages. Being late, I didn't know quite where to put myself until an officer of the society, clothed in what looked like old pages from a Victorian romance, suggested I have a go at smelling the collected works of Jack Schaefer. From that moment I didn't look back. I didn't look forward either, mind you. I was lost in the smell of books.