Monday, February 5, 2007

Literature for Sniffers

I know most folks don't tune in to a style blog for book recommendations, but hey -- I'm a rebel. (And if it's good enough for my BlogHero, it's good enough for me.) What I'm reading now:

(Totally delighted by the design of this cover. Did you get the perfume reference?)

This was a delightful and unexpected Christmas gift from my darling friends Ben & Mike, who know I'm a big ol' Frag Hag (Sniffer, Perfumista, whatever) and love me anyway. I'm about halfway through it and it's probably unprofessional of me to review a book before I've finished it, but A) I'm not a professional book critic and B) I just like it so much I want to tell you about it.

It really is a delightful read. Turin is a biologist by training who fell in love with fragrance many years ago, has written professionally (and beautifully) about perfume quite a lot, and some time ago turned the considerable powers of his scientific mind to the question of How Does Smell Work? You may not know this, but while there are pretty ironclad theories on how our senses of sight, hearing and even taste work, a Unified Theory of Smell has yet to be agreed upon by the scientific community. Turin has his ideas, and he's pretty convincing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that there have been several paragraphs on the chemistry of smell that I've had to go back and re-read, but I must stress that this is due more to my own poor scientific education and habit of reading in bed before I go to sleep than Turin's abilities as a writer. He actually explicates this stuff with remarkable clarity and humor. Even more fun, his writing about perfumes and smells is so lyrical and descriptive that I'm half-crazed to find & sniff the ones he talks about that I haven't tried (seriously -- someone pleasepleaseplease send me a sample of Nombre Noir before I run mad), and to re-sniff the ones I have.

You don't have to be a Perfumista to enjoy this, though, just a curious person who enjoys finding out new things. (If you mis-trust my literary judgment, you can check this review from a more reputable source.)

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