the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time — filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.
It’s a very powerful sense memory for me because I invested thousands of hours in my youth and beyond, patrolling the aisles of old bookstores, rummaging through musty tomes liberally sprinkled with dust in search of knowledge or entertainment. Occasionally stumbling upon a real bargain that almost evaded me and taking it home to transport me to new worlds or shed light on the wonders of this one.
In a spoken introduction to her song Love at the Five and Dime, Nanci Griffith describes the smell of Woolworths stores as that of bubble gum and popcorn mixed together on the bottom of a leather soled shoe. The powerful ability of smells to evoke memories is often overlooked but when we do recognise a long lost scent often the memory it unlocks is very powerful and evocative. For that reason I’m glad the word Vellichor has been introduced to us because it too will evoke a memory of happy days spent chasing pre-internet knowledge around second-hand bookstores.
If you want to experience Vellichor in action you could do worse than to pay a visit to Chapters Bookstore on Parnell Street in Dublin. Downstairs there are shelves and shelves of new and bargain books, while upstairs the hidden delights of the second-hand store await you.
What smells bring back memories to you?