The Sensuous Novel

The other day I was asked to suggest a menu for book clubs wishing to serve an A Reunion of Ghosts-themed dinner. Today I came across a perfume blog called Now Smell This that was asking readers to recommend not only good books but the appropriate scent to wear while reading them. The first reply suggested indexscents for both Reunion and my first book, The Last Day of the War:

I recently finished two books by Judith Claire Mitchell. “A Reunion of Ghosts” is a semi-historical novel (based loosely on a real family but with some of the details changed). The main characters are three sisters living in New York City, and I’m not sure what perfumes they would wear but something strange and bleak would be appropriate for reading it. Dune, maybe, or Patchouli 24. I liked it so much I went back and read her first novel, “The Last Day of the War,” which is about Armenian immigrants to America—so definitely Bois d’Armenie for that one.

This made me recall an article published in The Atlantic‘s 2005 fiction issue entitled “Writers and Mentors,” in which the author Rick Moody suggested that writing students analyzing their peers’ fiction try to answer the question, “If this story were music, what kind of music would it be?”

Taste, smell, sound, and sight. Throw in a tactile jacket and you’ve got all five senses. Wanting to engage so fully–so sensuously–with books seems more than frivolity to me. It seems to be a means of literalizing the experience of imagining the world of a book. In our imaginations, after all, the symbols on a piece of paper have dimensionality.  We hear the explosions of a cannon, we smell the burning fires that are simply described via squiggles on the page.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about today while wearing the scent of Whatever Bar of Soap was in the Shower.

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