It all started as a idea flippantly fired off in email, half-joking; inspired by the movie Ratatouille, we would wander down Valencia Street, blindfolded and identifying used books by smell.
First up, I closed my eyes and inhaled the aroma of the pages. “Eighteenth century, British.” “Are you sure you’re not looking?” he asked, showing me The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
I held up a vintage children’s book to his nose, flipping the pages to maximize the scent. “Pre-1940s. No wait, 1950. American,” he guessed. I showed him the book, a maroon hardcover by Hon Geo W Peck called Peck’s Bad Boy with the Cowboys, with illustrations like “Pa Kicked the Dog” and “The Chief’s Knees Knocked Together”.
Next, he wafted the pages of a paperback towards my upturned nose, eyes closed. Breathing in deeply, I guessed, “1960s, On the Road.” Close. The Noble Savage, a collection of stories in a set of at least 5 volumes, which was edited by Saul Bellow as a literary magazine in the 1960s. He scoured the shelves and bought volumes 1, 3, and 5.
My turn again. I crinkled the plastic covering on the illustrated hardcover of this book, cracking it open and fluttering through the pages. He inhaled, mulled it over. “1953. Definitely.” “Actually, you’re not far off, you’ve transposed the 3 and the 5. 1935,” I corrected, showing him the illustrated cover of Fly By Night, a somewhat racy action book with this on the flap:
Brett Dixon was just the kind of chap who would fall in love with the wrong girl. His father knew it. “Have another cocktail,” he said. “I’m going to startle you. I’m going to make you a sporting proposition. If you accept it, I will back you to the limit. If you won’t I’m through. I mean about money, of course.”
Also interesting was the interior of Fly by Night, where a previous owner pleaded, “And please return. I find that though many of my friends are poor mathematicians, they are nearly all good bookkeepers.”
A map of Florida smelled nothing like coconuts and suntan oil, more like stuffy overcrowded glove compartment. Another children’s book had an interesting title but not much more (A Kitchen is Not a Tree). After ogling the image collage on the walls and poking around the stacks a bit more, we raced off into the night, bicycling madly toward the Makeout Room to wrap up a thoroughly entertaining Wednesday evening.