Aged Pages: Using Your Senses With Used Books

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I knew it would show up on my blog eventually, but I wasn’t sure just when it’d happen. The great debate is finally here: Ebooks vs. print books. Though, before you close out this page thinking it’ll be just another rant about technology advancing for the better or worst, please bear with me.

Because this is an Aged Pages post, there will be less of a comparison between the two formats…and there will also be less of a focus on ebooks in general. What you will be reading is the praise for the pages which have been allowed to age over time; the pages that have been read by many pairs of eyes, many of which have never stared at a computer screen. These are the pages that can be found in a friendly neighborhood Spid….used bookstore.


My collection of books consists of a wide variety of books. These books are available to me in a variety of formats as well. I have at my disposal over 2,000 books. I don’t know the exact number though. All I know is that I have just under 1500 print books and over 600 ebooks. There are some that overlap and others I only have in one format of the other.

To get it out in the open, I used to be opposed to ebooks. Now I love them. But to make it clear, I will never do away with print books. I’m not on one side or the other of the “great debate,” and I’m not on the fence. I’m sitting down on the lovely field of grass next to the library that accepts both formats for books.

With that statement made, here is why I, despite not having a preference, am in permanent love with used books.

When I walk into a used bookstore one of the first things I notice is the smell. Of course I notice the books first, but that’s just a visual thing. When browsing a store there are more senses to use other than sight. Smell is a key factor to enjoying the experience. When books aged, the pages start to decay, collect dust, even grow mold. There are many reasons for there to be a smell. I don’t know how many times I will pick up a book and just smell it without looking at the words on the page or the title on the spine. Even a nosefull of dust can inspire a purchase.

Along with these smells DOES come a visual reaction as well. The older the book the more likely that the pages will be yellowed, or at least tinted brown, depending on their age. This leaves them more brittle at times and careful reading is required. I respect those books for surviving the years of turning over and over in someone else’s hands and not tearing (hopefully). Sometimes I prefer a yellowed, dulled page to that of a bright white and crisp page of a newer books.

I don’t have anything to add about the sense of sound for a used book. I mean I could pull something out of my ass for that sense…but I’ll spare you all from reading that. I do have the sense of touch to…touch upon. Older pages have a rougher texture. This is due to aging a lot of times. But there are also books from farther back that were already like this when they were newer. The paper quality over time have improved to become smoother. The quality now also limits page decay (maybe, don’t quote me on that. It’s just something I’ve noticed with books of recent decades.)

The rougher and more fragile pages give a certain feel that can’t be duplicated by an ebook. (Hey look he threw ebooks back into this.) I know the look of paper is duplicated. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to throw a scratch and sniff sticker on an ereader that smells like a book too. What can’t (in my imagination) be copied is the feel of the page. More debates have focused on the weight of a book compared to ereader. Who cares. If I’ve reading a book or ebook, neither the device of book is that heavy. Go lift some weights people. Even a hardcover of war and peace can be lifted easily enough 😛

As I said, I enjoy reading BOTH the print and ebook formats. There are reasons I enjoy both of them. Either way, as long as there is a used bookstore to walk into, a used book to smell and feel in my hands, I’ll go there and buy a book or ten. I feel the reasons stated here add to the experience of reading and should never be forgotten.

(You’ll notice I didn’t mention the sense of taste in this post. That’s just because licking a dusty book might not be very healthy….or tasty….or sanitary. If you’d like to, be my guest. Just know that it could also damage the book haha.)

(I also didn’t mention the sixth sense. That’s obvious. Books don’t die. You can’t see dead books.)

2 responses to “Aged Pages: Using Your Senses With Used Books

  1. I used to work in Union-PSCE’s William Smith Morton Library, (Richmond, VA) in their rare collections section, and I always loved the smell of the old books. Some of the bibles in that collection dated back to the reformation, as did some of the text books and such. I saw several from the 1600s, and some even from the 1500s. It was always fun to stalk the shelves for the oldest copies. So, I know what you mean by the smell. It was a lot of fun working there.

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