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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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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)

what if you shake it out and a poo falls out?

this post made me laugh. :)
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersizzle
You have just concreted the fear and disgust I have of library books. (That sentence just doesn't work, does it? Can one "concrete" a fear? Doesn't seem quite right but I have the pregnancy stupids so forgive me.)

Library books frighten me. Have you ever seen a booger in one? I have. How many people do you think bring library books into the bathroom? Do they always wash their hands? I think not. And now you borrowed a stinky one! Damn, I wish I knew the origination of the stank. That's some freaky shit.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMeegan
A post that ponders poop in library books. I am now from here on out a loyal reader.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterangela
Hi! I'm a lurker...not even a parent. Just think you're very funny. Anyway, coming out of lurkhood to share that David Sedaris was on This American Life recently reading a story about pooping in libraries and grocery stores and target, etc. I was absolutely horrified, but apparently it's a very common thing. So, wash your hands and sniff books before touching! Thanks for writing.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlkb
As a librarian, I am confounded. I've worked in libraries for almost 15 years, and I have never encountered a stinky book! I swear! Nor did I come upon patrons using tampons as bookmarks.

I must leave in some otherworld where people are clean and sparkly with their books.

But on a related note, I prepared a meal on top of one of my library books (as I was reading it) the other night, and as a librarian, had a good laugh inwardly at what I was doing.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterE
You've just explained why, as a voracious reader AND a lover of the concept of a free library ... I buy all my stupid books. There's not enough Purell in this world...

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdianne
Oh, jesus, there is universal truth in this post. It's part of the reason I don't go to the library anymore.

Bel Canto IS a really good book though. Try to find a stench-free version.
January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristin
I'm gagging just reading some of these...God bless our library for apparently being populated with angels and unicorns and the like.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnne
I had a student in Freshman Comp. whose papers reeked so much that I figured any cop stopping me for a traffic violation was going to be calling in the drug dog and searching my car.

I finally had to tell her that paper absorbs smells really well and she might want to consider putting hers in a large ziploc bag.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarin
I am a librarian, and one day while checking in books, I sniffed an odd but distantly familiar smell, a whiff of college days gone by. That's right-- there was the butt end of a joint left in that book. The book title? The Dummies' Guide to Your First Resume. The mind boggles.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJess
Did you check it out from the NYPL? Because I did, a few weeks ago. And I returned it very quickly for the exact same reason.

And that is why I have not read "Bel Canto."
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteran awfully serious girl
I have never gotten a smelly book from the library, but from now on I will smell every book the minute I pull it from the shelf. Yuck.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn
In high school I worked as a "page"--book shelver--and now I always wash my hands thoroughly after having been at the public library.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpatience
Suddenly Bossy isn't so ashamed of her television habit.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBOSSY
I read your "headache" post first and am now convinced it was a migraine. Strong odors are known triggers! Really. But also: You might want to do a little research and maybe see a Dr. if you have similar pain again. Migraines are no laughing matter.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterannie
I work in a public library. We once had a patron bring a book in, profusely apologizing, and explain that a feral cat had chased his housecat in, sprayed on the book, and broken a window on his way out. I think the library book was the least of the man's problems, so we didn't charge him for the replacement. I've also seen swarms of newly-hatched bugs in video cases.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjess
Until this very moment, I never gave thought one to the people who were touching my library books before I touched them. Or whatever else they might have been doing to them.

You've stolen my innocence. I must return my books right now.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterangelawd
I asked the librarians at my lovely local branch to collect the things that they find in the books that are returned and I would create a display in May from their findings... I never thought about smells... wonder how I could collect/display those?
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjacqueline
Thank you for this. I now feel no guilt about continuing to order all my books from! So much for my plans to become budget-conscious...
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMauigirl
The end of Bel Canto is awful. Read it, then pretend the whole last section of the book never happened. I have it here, you can have it, because mine smells like lavender with notes of vanilla. Also, I've sprinkled some glitter inside.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie Mason
Thought I'd share...
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
I work in a public library and I see this all. the. time. Stinky books, stinky movies, poop in the library, kids who pee on chairs in the children's room, used panty liners as book marks, barbeque sauce spilled all over books which were then put in the book drop to cover all the rest of the books... and the librarians can tell that it isn't you who made it smell bad, and those patrons who omit those smells we have to treat just as nicely as the oder-less patrons. i really love my job, but sometimes i am shocked at how people treat the books they get to take for free.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterL
I'm sorry your book smelled. This is why I own.

On the bright side, I nearly fell out of the chair reading this. My favorite part: "It did not originate from me..."

January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaria
I'm sorry your book smelled. This is why I own.

On the bright side, I nearly fell out of the chair reading this. My favorite part: "It did not originate from me..."

It made me laugh.
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaria
The main reason I am becoming a librarian is the ample opportunites to JUDGE. I cannot wait for the judging! And the supercilious looks! And the snide asides! (Not to mention the bun-wearing that will commence...) I really thought the Worst Parenting Awards post was the best but this one is great too!
January 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteravril

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