The Smell of Paper & Coffee.

All Barnes & Noble stores smell the same.  After days of feeling like I couldn’t breathe — both literally and figuratively — I walked through their doors and inhaled deeply the aroma of high-quality paper and coffee.

It smelled like freedom.

I worked at the Chattanooga Barnes & Noble years ago when I was in college. Not the college I graduated from, which is LSU. This was the first college, and I think at the time I must have been on The Ol’ College Try #3. Whenever I hear the saying “give it the ol’ college try,” I have to assume they’re referring to me and the number of times I dropped out of and re-enrolled in college before finally graduating.

I have always loved books, even before I loved coffee, and when some genius married the two into a wonderful place and named it Barnes & Noble … it became my haven. I listened to and purchased my music there, wrote furiously in journals before anyone had laptops, flipped through magazines, met people for coffee. The familiar smell of books and coffee makes me think of all the books I read there but did not buy; books that had nothing to do with pregnancy or children. The frappucino machine still makes the exact whirring sound today as it did in 2001.

When I was younger and took road trips to see my friend Amy in Birmingham, I’d always stop at the one at The Summit off I-459. I remember visiting my friend Kate in New York City back before either of us knew what we wanted out of life, and going to the massive Barnes & Noble there. She said people were staring at me because I was so tan. I regret all that time in the tanning bed now, but yes, at the time I was quite tan and  I did not blend in whatsoever with the good people of New York.

Today I got a lump in my throat in the cookbook aisle and I considered what would happen if I just sat on the floor and cried. It reminded me of how I used to feel when I went to my Grandma’s house and plopped into her couch — it was soft and the air always smelled the same. There’s a comfort in familiarity when everything in your life is out of control.

This is how it feels to be in your mid-30’s: nearly crying in the middle of the bookstore because it’s the first time you’ve had a chance to breathe and be alone in a place that always smelled and felt the same. I miss having a place where it’s okay to cry without people staring or one of your children sweetly patting your arm saying “I sowwy, Mommy. I sowwy.” Maybe I need to find a way to bottle the smell of the bookstore into an aerosol can, so I can spritz it into my closet when I need to take a breather. Maybe I should have just sat down and cried next to the vegetarian cookbooks. Surely I wouldn’t be the first person to do it — where do all the other women go to have emotional breakdowns? Mall dressing rooms?

Instead, I chose to sit at a little table and pretend to read while I listened to a man plan a cruise over the phone. As he talked to the cruise line representative, I regrouped. He was calm about never setting foot on a cruise ship. I could be calm too.

Then I found this, and instantly felt better.


If you go by this, even on your worst day you are still a beautiful, not-boring genius. Not too shabby.

3 thoughts on “The Smell of Paper & Coffee.

  1. Love Barnes & Noble and that quote. My baby isn’t old enough to see the tears forming in my eyes when I’m too tired from work to think. I love being a mother, but life gets tough some times!!


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