(This is a problem I run into fairly often, and I suspect most book collectors do, too. Thanks to Frank for sharing his method of dealing with it. I haven’t tried it yet, but I certainly intend to.)
Have you ever bought a book that was a real stinker? I don’t mean the story and the writing, but rather the smell. Paper is porous so it can be damaged by cigarette smoke, mold and mildew, and other unpleasant odors. I had one old book that smelled so bad I couldn’t read it. So I went on the hunt for a way to make the book-reader friendly and discovered the healing power of cedar.
Specifically, cedar chips. The cedar does two things: it absorbs the bad odor and replaces it with a nice, subtle cedar smell that fades as you read the book. To build your own fumigation tank:
Buy a plastic tub that can be sealed with a top. The size depends on how many books you want to treat at one time. Mine is 1’ x 1’ x 2’ and works well for six books.
Cover the bottom with cedar chips – an inch or so deep. I use cedar packaged for pet bedding and litter.
Stand the offending book upright in the tub and fan open the pages. It is important to expose as much of the book as possible to the magic of the cedar. I have not discovered any ill affect from having the book in direct contact with the cedar shavings, but if you’re hesitant, I suggest placing the book in a secondary container on top of the cedar. A Tupperware container or even a plastic plate works well.
I find that hardbacks fan open and stand upright pretty easily, either in the cedar or on a plate, but paperbacks need help because they want to stay shut, so I fan them open into four or five sections and wedge cedar in between the exposed pages. I even sprinkle cedar on top of a particularly egregious book.
After you have your books in place, put the lid on top and walk away. The amount of time necessary to restore a book depends on the degree of the smell. Two weeks handles most of the books I’ve treated. When I remove a book, I flick through the pages several times to eject cedar chips and dust, and then head for my favorite reading spot. You will need to change out the cedar in your chamber every so often, or add more and stir it up. The fresher it is, the faster it works.
As for a book whose story stinks, well . . . I’m afraid cedar won’t help there.