I Think You Should Read: “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide,” Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez

The pleasure of hearing two people describe the intangible.

I Think You Should Read: “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide,” Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez
If you Google "smell," you get endless illustrations of people smelling (a) roses or (b) pizza.

There is a certain kind of reading that I do when I hit the wall. I agreed to at least three Big Projects this year, none of which are this newsletter. Most of my reading has been research, and a lot of that research has been a bummer. There is a limit to how much Useful Information I can take in before I lose the ability to assimilate it and it all blurs together into one big, decisively un-Useful blob of words. 

When I reach this point, I need a palate cleanser. My requirements are as follows:

  • It must be fundamentally unserious — I do not want to be bummed out, or to tax my mind with heavy concepts that take a long time to unravel.
  • It must be unrelated to work — no politics, and no deep thinking about gender.
  • It must be relatively literary — I am here because my writing is starting to suck. Though I do not want the contents of the book to challenge me in any way whatsoever, on an actual word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence level, it should remind me of what good writing sounds like. 

The book I go back to over and over, for this purpose, is Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. I must have re-read it at least a half-dozen times over the past sixteen years — often enough to have some passages memorized. I genuinely think this is one of the best books of criticism I’ve ever read. I am not alone in this: Emily Gould loved it. Hilary Mantel loved it. In my experience, nearly everyone who reads this book winds up loving it, and this is despite — no, because — most readers’ initial response is to wonder why anyone would write an entire book about perfume.

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