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.