The Scent Of A Book

November 2nd, 2006 · 4 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Cover of Carolyn Turgeon's Rain VillageDespite the social whirl that was BookExpo America, we made it a point to attend the bash thrown by Unbridled Books. They have been nothing but kind in their sharing of books, and we thought to repay this generosity by, well, eating their food and drinking their wine. Hmm, sounds like someone got the short end of the relationship.

With eating and drinking comes making merry, and we spent the evening chatting and trying to work our brand-new camera. Then it happened…someone dared to ask our true first name, which, alas, always leads to a lengthy discussion (“Did your mother do that to you on purpose?”). Two, maybe three, chatting groups away, Carolyn Turgeon, author of the gorgeous new book Rain Village, heard us utter the secret word. She tells the story far better than we ever could, which is just about perfect because it leads into a topic that both fascinates her and threads through her new book.

What you are about to read is mostly a true story.

When I first met Kassia at the Unbridled party at Book Expo this past spring, I was informed that she is named after a spice. And not just any spice, but cassia, which is related to cinnamon. I’m sure I appeared cool and collected, even glamorous, as this news was conveyed, but in reality a wave of longing and jealousy moved through me and a tear or two might have appeared in my eyeball. Cinnamon! If you’re going to be named after anything, it should be that. Sadly, my own name means “full grown.”

I don’t know if there is anything so powerful as the smell of cinnamon. As far as smells go, anyway, unless you count the scent of bitter almonds that is a reminder of the fate of unrequited love. I mean, burn a cinnamon stick candle or heat up a vat of apple cider with cinnamon sticks floating on top. Tell me you do not imagine long winding country roads, chimneys with smoke puffing out of them, crackling fires and pies straight from the oven, bright red and yellow leaves winking from tree branches and then hurling themselves to the earth, making that licentious crunching sound as you step over them. Tell me you don’t imagine corn mazes and haystacks and pumpkins and crows. It’s a scent that’s both homespun and exotic, as much associated with mama’s home cooking as with Roman funeral pyres or Cleopatra, who was rumored to have carried cinnamon along with her jewels.

I not only love cinnamon, I have a real, bona fide problem with it. I have a character in my novel, Rain Village, who smells so strongly of cinnamon and cloves that when she joins the circus her mentor tries everything to rid her of the scent, burning her clothes and scrubbing her skin with lemon juice. But her scent is so strong that after watching her perform, women return home and brew up vats of hot cider steeped in cinnamon sticks, or put out bowls filled with oranges stuck through with cloves. Later in the book, a breeze rises up and passes through the circus, carrying with it the scents of cloves and cinnamon, so strong that people take to their beds with fever, or begin sprinkling hot chocolate with cinnamon and brewing apple cider to satisfy the cravings the spiced air leaves them with.

I burned cinnamon and pumpkin spice candles when I was writing the book. I also, of course, burn them when I am doing dishes or watching Project Runway, but that is beside the point. The scent was so strong it threatened to overtake the novel completely. At one point I might have mentioned the scent on every other page, which to me seemed only right and natural. I mean, how else could I make each page seem like perfume, like apple pie, like something you’d want to roll around in? Isn’t that what a book should be? In my writing workshop, however, people shockingly claimed that I went TOO FAR, and when the book got to Unbridled, by which point I’d already (painfully) cut 5000000 references, my editor still suggested I go through and cut every reference that wasn’t essential. He also pointed to a page where I both use the name Gabriela and the phrase “clove and cinnamon,” and said I just couldn’t do that. I’d been found out! Can I help it that when I first saw Jorge Amado’s novel Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. I swooned with jealousy and desire? It might be my favorite book of all time, and I haven’t even read it.

A little scent goes a long way, my editor said. But I wanted my book to be like Cleopatra’s sails, which were said to be, in some accounts (obviously the correct ones), soaked in cinnamon as she made her way to Marc Antony. I wanted my book to ripple in the breeze, too, as I sailed upon it, hypnotizing and seducing everyone in its wake. What is so wrong with that? So many novels these days are happy just being prim and scentless. Other than Marquez’s bitter almonds (unrequited love! who else could make an Almond Joy seem so romantic?), or the gorgeously undulating scents in a book like Perfume, or the many sultry spices in a novel like Mistress of Spices, can you think of many scents in literature? Where the smell leaps off the page and weaves its way into you? Where the pages bat their eyelashes while baring their perfumed shoulders? I’m sure there are some, but I cannot think of them, and to me this is as criminal as my own spiceless moniker.

In our (never) humble opinion, we believe you should go buy Carolyn’s book immediately — it is the perfect mix of magic, mystery, and scent (also, running away to join the circus). You can catch her in all her podcast glory right here. And she has a website (truly, the fun never ends!) here.

[tags]carolyn turgeon, rain village, unbridled books, writing, publishing[/tags]

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

4 responses so far ↓

  • SusanGable // Nov 3, 2006 at 5:17 am

    Well, after reading her piece here, I’m ready to go out and buy it. The lady has good scents. (g) Her descriptions here had me ready to go bake a pie just so I could smell the cinnamon. Actually, my husband dumps cinnamon into his oatmeal every morning and I like to hang out in the kitchen when he makes it just so I can sniff. So, I’m with her.

    And I never knew that about your name. The cool things one can learn by reading. 🙂

  • Brenda Coulter // Nov 3, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Oh, thanks a lot, Cinnamon Girl. Now I’ll have that Neil Young song running around my head all day and I won’t be able to get any work done.

  • Thomasina // Nov 3, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    There was a girl in my secondary school named Cinnamon, actually. Her full name was–I swear this on a stack of Late Romantics–Cinnamon Vermillion. Yet another example of the truth being stranger than fiction. If an author named their character Cinnamon Vermillion, people would queue up at the booksigning just to laugh at someone who would fabricate such an artistic and unrealistic name.

    But I think your name is beautiful! And even if you feel you’ve been saddled with an absurd name, I think I can give you a run for your money.

  • jeux vidéo pas cher // Jul 14, 2010 at 9:20 am

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