On Debbie Tung’s Book Love & the joy & romanticization of books

Debbie Tung’s graphic novel Book Love is a charming little piece, a celebration of the places books have taken Tung and the ways in which they’ve been (and are) her friends. It’s also a romanticization of both books and reading, and, I think, an interesting look at the ways in which we can romanticize the hell out of form and format.

I read Book Love during a massive internet outage, which means that I wasn’t necessarily reading it in as careful a way as I tend to read things: it was there and it kept me company so I wouldn’t stroke out from the sheer rage of not being able to do anything. It’s a great book to keep its reader company, which feels pretty perfect for a little graphic novel about the ways in which books can be boon companions to their readers. It’s fun and charming and sometimes rather emotional, and I really enjoyed it.

It’s also romantic as all hell. I don’t mean the kind of romance one gets in a romance novel, where everything is bound to end happily. I mean the kind where a certain format gets romanticized, where books as things become idealized into a place and shape and space where I, as a librarian who gleefully weeds them, don’t much belong.

I’ve actually never smelled a book. This is a pretty common trope, this idea that books smell so good and librarians love the smell of books and so on and so forth. I’m not that kind of librarian, and I’m not that kind of reader. I could say that several years in public libraries cured me of any desire to have books that close to my face, which has some truth to it, but I’m also just kind of defiantly not that kind of person. (I’m cold and logical, see, and I don’t romanticize much of anything.)

I have no clue why Tung wants to smell books, or why she extols their virtues in the ways in which she does when interacting with lovers of eReaders. This is, however, a me issue: I fully understand that I really am pretty much cold and logical, and I don’t process things—especially emotional things—the way most people do. (Sit next to me at a play or an opera and you’ll realize this the minute I start laughing like a hyena when our main characters fall in love at first sight.)

There are plenty of arguments to be made about books versus eReaders, although for the most part I don’t care to engage in such debates. I think people should simply read whichever format works better for them, whether that’s a printed book, an eReader, or any of the various possible versions of audiobooks that exist in the world. I just want people to consume their stories in the ways that make them happiest, and I want to be left alone to do the same thing myself. (Audiobooks are real books, by the bye, and so are comic books and graphic novels and, honestly, webtoons too.)

Book Love is charming and fun, a quick and easy read and a boon companion for a day, whether that day be a good one or one so frustrating as to tend toward stroke territory (if you’re me, at any rate). It does a lot of romanticizing of the physical printed book format, and a lot of book-smelling, and that’s really not something I understand at all. But that’s okay! I too love books, after all, and I really enjoyed this one. Even if I have no flipping clue why you or Debbie Tung or anyone else would ever want to smell a book.