Top Shelf in July: Coming to My Senses by Alyssa Harad
Reviewed by: Danielle (Bookseller & Perfume Connoisseur)
I’ve always had an unusually interactive relationship with my sense of smell. Sure, we all use our noses; but since I was a little girl, I was famous among my friends and family for my eager desire to smell anything: the beautiful, the weird, and even the straight-up nasty. My reasoning has always been that “you can learn a lot about something by how it smells!”
My uncanny ability to track and identify scents is legendary to those who know me; I once, after sniffing my ex-husband during a walk, informed him, to his laughing amusement, “you’ve worn that tee-shirt three times without washing it.”
It might seem strange, given my long obsession with all things smelly, that it’s only been in the past three years or so that I became interested in perfume– the pinnacle of olfactory experience. It was a rose that did it for me. I had known perfumes, but I never really understood what they could be, until, that is, I smelled the most beautiful rose in creation (seriously!) My failed attempts to tincture and capture the aroma of that spectacular bloom led me to research rose fragrances online, which quickly landed me at the doorstep to the mother ship of Perfume-Land: Now Smell This (nstperfume.com), an encyclopedic collection of news, reviews, and essays, all about perfume. Pretty much the holy grail of anything fragrance related.
Through this portal, I discovered a world I didn’t previously know existed: a world of sensory pleasure, firstly, but also a world of friendship, generosity, and some damned fine writing. Perfume bloggers were writing about scent in a sensual, transportive, way; their words ushered me to far off places (queue Aladdin song, “A Whole New World…”), recaptured childhood memories, even conjured sunny days at the beach with friends.
Someone cynically said that “Writing about perfume is like dancing about architecture.” Maybe that’s true– but why not?
It was in this oasis of literary rogues that I first encountered Alyssa’s writing. Her essays for Now Smell This were always warm, heartfelt, and engaging. She has the kind of voice that makes you feel like you’re sitting next to each other on a plush couch, cozily chatting over a glass of wine. The blog format, which encourages comments and responses from the author, has a way of building community among the participants; every comment I’ve ever written on one of Alyssa’s posts has been personally answered, making me feel like I knew her intimately long before we ever shared a glass of wine in real-time.
Her book, Coming to My Senses, feels a lot like her blog posts. When I read it the first time, I had many of the same feelings I’ve had when reading her other work– that I was a part of her story. It’s her story, but it’s also my story. It’s about being a woman (or a man) and embracing pleasure for it’s own sake, about saying “Yes!’ to something just because it makes us happy, and how sharing this delight brings people together.
This universe, the exclusive and often prohibitively expensive world of luxury fragrance, is one you might think of as the epitome of elitism. Instead, it’s a world where genuine friendships are built, bottles of extravagantly expensive perfumes are shared (“split”) between dozens of people– thus making even the most rare and precious juice available to almost anyone.
Perfume is, as Alyssa demonstrates in her memoir, the ephemeral touchstone of a community that is so much more than scent. Really, it’s just the door we walk through into a richer, more beautiful life.
Join us for an evening with writer and perfume nerd Alyssa Harad on Thursday, July 12 at 7pm as she leads an interactive discussion about perfume as you’ve never thought of it before!
We’ll enjoy gourmet truffles from Delysia Chocolatier created especially for this evening and based on one of the scents in the book, as well as fragrant jasmine bellinis. All of our senses will be heightened at this extraordinary event!