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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

Some Books
I'm In...

Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Stinky book.

I returned a book to the library because it smelled bad. Whoever borrowed the book before me had, it seemed, smoked twelve packs of cigarettes while reading it, then rubbed the book into his or her armpits, and maybe some other areas. I didn't want to think about it. (Liar! I wanted to know exactly what happened to this book. Not only did I sniff at it for far too long, I also invited others to smell it. Strangely, no one really wanted to.) The book, incidentally, was "Bel Canto," by Ann Patchett. Not "Smell this!: Inventing New and Puzzling Odors Using Your Very Own Body." It isn't the sort of novel I would imagine might attract a reader who's vehemently anti-shower. But nonetheless.

So I returned the book. I couldn't very well drop it into the drop-off box, because 1) it would infect all the other books with its funk, and 2) the library would think I am responsible. The library is judging, always judging. The librarians get together at the end of the day and mock my book-borrowing choices. Yeah, that’s right, just mine. I know how these things go.

I handed the book to the librarian and explained the deal with the book. "This book has an odor," I said, "and if you’ll smell me you’ll know that the odor did not originate from me. I smell of lavender, with notes of vanilla, while this reeks of unwholesomeness and the grave."

Let me try that again. "Hi, this book smells," I told the librarian. She held the book between two fingers and nodded, tossing it into a bin. The smelly-book bin? "It happens all the time," she said. "I've seen much worse."

"Like what?" I asked her, but she only shook her head. So I'm pretty sure that what she meant is that people poop in books. I'm guessing, here, but I also know I’m right, and that it happens all the time.

In conclusion, smell your books before borrowing them. Maybe shake them out a bit. You'll thank me later.

Reader Comments (83)

Wow, Alice! You totally just sounded like "Monk". I'm impressed. Great post!
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLiz C.
But try again with Bel Canto. It's good and worth a read.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermerseydotes
Oh, the smokers! Why can't we just line them up; get them to recite the Odyssey backwards and shoot them?

I am only suggesting this because I am one of them. I do, however, always wear latex gloves while turning the pages of the Unibomber Manifesto.

On a stinkier note, the national obsession with personal hygiene is bordering on the malodorous side of humanity. Agree?
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertsena

That's why I hate library books. The smells. The mystery stains. The random hairs that fall out.

I love the concept of the library, but only wish they would disinfect the books once they are returned. UNLESS - each person gets a clean, fresh, new copy. Or at least I do.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSuniverse
I teach at a high school for "at risk" kids. I've had books and homework (Yes! Homework!) turned in reeking of cigarettes, BO, pot, alcohol, and cocaine. It's a wonder they manage to get any homework done at all.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRonna
I worked in a library when I was in college and on summer days, the 600 section all the way in the back of the library always smelled like urine. I hated having to put books away back there and I'll be happy forever that I never had to check any of them out to use.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
People poop in books! Ha - you're hysterical!

But now, of course, I think I'll just buy my books from now on...
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMadmad
An addendum to my previous comment is in order.

Finslippy readers: beware the perils of purchasing first edition books, or God Forbid original manuscripts from the following writers:

Samuel BeckettRaymond ChandlerRaymond CarverErnest HemingwayDorothy ParkerHarold Pinter

The list may go on and on. These were all smokers. Hence - their books reeked of this, that and the other banished odour.

No pooping allowed, though. I wonder about the latter. Never the former.

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertsena
Hey wait! I didn't read all the comments (I'm lazy), but I work in the book industry.

Many printers use a chemical on the books that preserves paper really well, works great 99% of the time, BUT, if the books are stored with moisture for long periods of time, they come out smelling just like rotting corpses.

It happens occasionally on long boat shipments from China, when it was a particularly humid day they were loading up a container.

For reals, we had an entire shipment that was thrown out for this reason a few years ago.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKate
This post reminded me of my first semester advanced geometry class in ninth grade. My teacher was rather large, wore the same tie depicting Jesus on the cross every single day, and was basically a complete slob. One day he handed back an exam of mine which read "A+ Perfect!" at the top of the page and had what I can only describe as the largest, greenest, stickiest booger smeared next to it. And I had to pretend that I was all happy about it when he congratulated me with a pat on the back. All I could imagine was him wiping snot all over my shirt while he did it. Traumatizing, I tell you.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
Ewww! Now I don't feel so wasteful for buying books and BookCrossing them rather than going to the library.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Jane
When my husband was little a dog defecated on his library book. In front of his whole second grade class. It was winter so the deposit steamed poetically.

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKaryn
I am violently excited that there are libraries, so we may all read for FREE. I mean, that's astounding, really. That's one heck of a gift! So, I hesitate to share this (not really - I CANNOT wait to share this): I have discovered, to my still-quivering with horror, uhhh horror, a piece of body hair in a volume of simple fiction. And yes, it was body hair, of the nethers area, quite as if Ron Jeremy was at my local branch, pantslessly pursuing the work of Amy Bloom.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara
I cannot deny this wisdom of this post. In college, there was someone who er... Defaced books in the library who got named "The Wacker". I'll leave it to you to guess the origin of his defacement style.

Anyway, he was so prolific that the school actually had to put of flyers with rewards for anyone who could catch him 'red handed'.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteranne nahm
I have been trying to stop accumulating so many books and the library has been my savior. Now, Yuck, Not So Much any more. What will I do with my budget, my lack of storage, and worse my compulsion to get rid of stuff? The librarian has "seen worse"? Oh lord. And I myself even like to read on the toilet. This is wigging me out!
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterterri
I recently had a library book that REEKED of cat pee. I too felt the need to explain to the librarian that I'd received it that way. She didn't throw it out, though. She set it aside so they could later use some special "spray" on it.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteph
oh, lady, i have not laughed that hard in a long time. i'm sorry you had to endure such a thing for our humor, but thank you.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermama without instructions
The worst kind of smell is one that you don't have the choice to scratch before you sniff. (WOW, now that I've typed that out it sounds much worse than it did in my head.)JulesHouse of Jules

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjules
I am super impressed with how many people commented on this entry. We've all had run-ins with the stink, I guess.

Do try to see if the library has another copy. I loved Bel Canto. Patchett's other book, The Patron Saint of Liars, is also wonderful but in a totally different way.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRivetergirl
Lavender, with vanilla notes, eh? I think you need to bottle it and give some to the library.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBipolarlawyercook
Wow. And ewwww.

And maybe I shouldn't check books out of the library anymore. Because if I got a stanky book, I'd probably barf all over it.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristabella
Ok, now I'm scared to take those library sciences classes.What is it about a library that says "poop"? Or is it just books in general? If so, what is it about books that says "poop"? 'Cause, I gotta say that is not the first thing I think of when I see a book. And that is probably a very good thing as I own quite a few books.Maybe these people don't know what toilet paper is or what purpose it serves. That or bathrooms.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLittle Bird
Yep. As a former children's librarian in a public library you would not BELIEVE some of the things people use as bookmarks. I've seen condoms (unused thank god), toilet paper, social security cards, tampons... you name it. Mostly airline tickets though.

OUr library did disenfect the really stinky ones however.Don't give up on the library! A sniff test will do... :)

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBookMamma
I hate the ones that smell like vomit. Why vomit? My son checked out one recently that smelled of regurgitation and I could hardly read it to him. I remember that sometimes in school the brand new textbooks could smell horrific. (I'm beginning to wonder if it's me.) I was always embarrassed if I opened one during class and had a loss-of-control face when the stench hit my brain. "Oh... oh... oh!" I'd say while fanning my nasal area. No, in case you were wondering, I was not popular.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhi kooky
Yep, we're frequent library goers, too, and have, on occasion, come across unspeakableness in the books. Ripped pages are the most frequent and the most tedious and disappointing.

Those mysterious brown smears? Blood? Chocolate? Soy sauce? POOP?!?!?! I don't want to know... I just jump up and go wash my hands and store the thing in my HAZMAT-approved library book bag... wash that thing in HOT WATER with LOTS OF SOAP and BLEACH every so often.

I try never to smell the books. If one EMITS odor, I just put it in the bag until I can take it back. I would never dream of bringing anything from the library close enough to my face to smell it. Ewww.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTitanKT

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