I am adamant that I can smell the books when I walk past Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford's Broad Street. Isn't it a lovely thought, that there are enough books in that quirky building with its vast maze of shelving, for their inky, papery fragrance to escape through the doors?
It's not just the smell of books I love. Any printed paper will do. Magazines, catalogues, meeting agendas fresh from the office printer: they all have their own character. But there is something about books – the familiarity of that favourite paperback, the authority of an aged academic tome, the promise of this brand new hardback novel...
Smells of course can send you back in time like nothing else. Thierry Mugler's Angel, if I ever catch a hint of it on a passer-by, takes me straight to a summer in Cambridge, when I'd just started wearing it. It's all there in the smell: the desk I sat at under the window, drinking tea and writing letters, the poetry seminars and lunches on the grass.
It happens with books too. Sometimes a book will smell just like, perhaps, a series of novels I read as a child, or one of those old copies of Agatha Christie I always picked up on holiday, and I'm transported to the beach, or a deckchair in the garden, some time in the 1980s – sand or grass underfoot, suncream, the sound of waves or a cooing wood pigeon.
Or, most of the time, I just walk past Blackwells on my way to work and take a deep breath in, inhaling all that bookish goodness in readiness for the day ahead.