When Did You First Fall in Love with the Written Word? 

“Books are a uniquely portable magic” 
— Stephen King   

With Valentine’s Day upon us, thoughts of love are in the air. Most may be thinking of someone special. But what about the other times you fell in love? Do you remember the moment you first fell in love with the written word? Is that moment still near and dear to you? Or was it more of a gradual infatuation, one that snuck up on you over time the more you read?  

What is it about the written word that is just so captivating? Is it more than just the printed word on an actual page? For many, it goes beyond the characters and words they make up. Reading a book is a visceral experience. There’s immense joy in going to a bookstore or library … or a friend’s house … and turning your head sideways just enough to read the spines. You can deduce so much about a person by what they read, after all.  

Did you know there is a term for the way books smell? Bibliosmia is the aroma of a book: it’s printing ink, the paper, the cover material. It’s not your imagination. Old books do smell like vanilla. That’s caused by a chemical called lignan, a distant cousin of vanilla, that’s found in wood-based paper. Maybe that has something to do with it.  

So much of the appeal of reading happens when you project yourself into the story, sneaking between the nouns and verbs, painting pictures in your imagination, feeling the environments, becoming emotionally invested, and yes, even picking up a scent or two.  

As writers and readers collect serious word counts over the years, it can be easy to become a little cynical. The honeymoon period wears off and once the initial concoction of noradrenaline, dopamine, and phenylethylamine wears off, we can settle into routines, the magic seemingly lost.  

Like any great love affair, sparks can be reignited. It takes work, of course. Remember what caught you early on. Revisit a favorite book from that period. Read a book you’ve always wanted to but haven’t due to so many obligations in the way. Rediscover the unique connection you have with the written word. It’s there waiting. And you don’t need to bring flowers, or a box of fancy chocolates, or whisper reaffirmations. All you must do is show up, open its covers, and let yourself in. Those worlds are still there, waiting for you with open arms.   

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