Phil Hugo: A sensory exploration of books
I leaf through a book my wife, Karen, gave me for my birthday: “Taste — My Life Through Food” — by Stanley Tucci. It’s about his life and his love affair with food, among other things.
You may know Tucci from his work on stage and screen and his CNN series, “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.” The project is a region-by-region history of this country’s foods and the people who raise, make and consume the cheese, meat, tomatoes, pasta and desserts for which the country is famous.
I’ve never been to Italy, but the series and the book make me want to visit the place.
One of the first things I do with a book, whether it’s fresh from the bookstore or a new one that I’ve asked Lima Public Library staff to order for the collection, is a quick sensory exploration of the book. By this I mean using four of my five senses.
I’ve never licked or tried to chew on a book, especially if it’s a food book, to see how it might tickle my taste buds. No matter how tempting a photo of a strawberry cake might look. Call it savoring the flavor of the book vicariously.
My literary tastes lean towards non-fiction, covering various subjects. In the realm of fiction, my choices fell on the works of the late Jim Harrison: interesting scenarios and characters with outdoor settings, the latter appealing to the naturalist in me.
As important as a book’s content and characters are, I’m also interested in character – the physicality of a book, the idea that you can judge a book by its cover, and other aspects of its composition. .
Visually, the cover of Tucci’s book is appealing: embossed letters in glossy black and gold, the dust jacket made up of white and orange, delimited by a tactile line between the two colors and a black and white photo of Stanley. It’s a cover that catches my eye.
The tactility of a book also applies to paper, which serves as a bed for words. The vertical edges of pages can be smooth or rough. Heavyweight or spare, for example the thin paper that makes up the body of my late father-in-law Elmer Jantzi’s well-used leather-bound Bible – worn, torn and well-used pages by the hands of a man who loved books.
The body of an aged book is reminiscent of the aging body of its owner.
Have you ever picked up books to see what they smell like? I do. The aroma of a book can reflect the ink, the binding glue and the paper used. New books have a freshness, a certain “je ne sais quoi”. Now, if they could incorporate a scratch and sniff feature into the cookbooks, wouldn’t that be great?
Besides the manufactured smell of books, there is an environmental or age aspect that contributes to the smell of certain volumes. I have a book on entomology that I used when I was in college in the 60s. middle-aged, and it’s not because of the bedbugs described there.
How do you feel when you take the time to listen to the sounds a book makes when we hold it in our hands? The sound produced by a finger when we move it to the corner of a page, separating it from its resting place, and then dragging the digit down the page to complete the process. What about the sound of a squeaky binding, i.e. the spine of a book?
A final thought on the audible effects of books when we use them for work or pleasure: the explosive noise a book makes when we slam it shut or throw it on the floor in a fit of anger or frustration. Choose a reason. Do this with an electronic device and see what happens.
Many people are downloading books to electronic device these days. I guess there are advantages, like portability, cost, not losing a library book, etc. But when Karen reads a book on her phone in my presence, the text may be the same, but the character, the physique that I have that I talked about is missing. For me, there is something special about holding a book that adds to the pleasure of reading.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find Tucci’s book and try one of his recipes. Oh, and while I’m doing that, maybe you’ll take the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the character of a book in your collection.
Phil Hugo lives in Lima. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.