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Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way [Paperback]

Molly Birnbaum
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Aug 2011
At the age of 22, Molly was an aspiring chef. She was spending her nights reading cookbooks and her days working at a bistro in preparation for training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. But then one day while out running, she was hit by a car. The accident fractured her skull, broke her pelvis, tore her knee to shreds - and destroyed her sense of smell. As the weeks went by, the flesh and bones began to heal, but she still couldn't smell a thing.And not being able to smell meant not being able to taste or cook, and suddenly her restaurant job, her cookery school plans, and her future as a chef were all over. SEASON TO TASTE follows what came next: how Molly picked herself up and set off on a quest to learn to smell again. Writing with emotional honesty, intellectual curiosity, and a foodie's feel for descriptive precision, she explores the science of olfaction, pheromones, and Proust's madeleine; she meets leading experts, including the writer Oliver Sacks, scientist Stuart Firestein, and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel; and she visits a pioneering flavour laboratory, eats at Grant Achatz's legendary Chicago restaurant Alinea, and enrolls at a renowned perfume school in Grasse, all in an effort to understand and overcome her condition. From cinnamon and cedar wood, to bacon and her boyfriend's shirt, Molly Birnbaum gradually rediscovers the scented world and captures in words - apt and piquant words - the rich layer of life that tends to be wordless.

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Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way + Navigating Smell and Taste Disorders (Neurology Now Books)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (4 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846273838
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846273834
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 21.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 525,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`A rich resonant book, bubbling with curiosity and humour and intense with a life of the senses' --The Times

'A true and poignant story that will make you inhale deeply and savour whatever you smell' --Time Out

'A deliciously sweet and funny account of experiencing pain and overcoming it' --Jewish Chronicle

'An emotional impassioned appeal for a wider appreciation of the sense of smell's importance to our wellbeing' --Herald

`When it comes to doing her groundwork, Birnbaum is unbeatable'
--Daily Telegraph

About the Author

MOLLY BIRNBAUM is a recipient of the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship in Arts and Culture from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and ARTnews magazine, and writes the popular food blog Molly's Madeleine ( ). This is her first book.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Senses not working overtime ... 23 Nov 2011
By Dog trainer (failed) VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Believe it or not, it was quite some time before I even realised I was losing my sense of smell. As another reviewer points out here, most people, if they had to lose a sense, would probably opt for that of smell. Fair enough, but it's a bit of a double whammy for at the same time you lose most of your sense of taste. Cooking and eating become much less of a pleasure, more things you just do ...

It's frightening, too. I mentioned to friends that I was losing it, and to a man, they helpfully observed, 'That'll be a brain tumour, then'. You can imagine the state I was in by the time I finally dragged myself to the doctor. Oddly enough, he never seemed to think it was a brain tumour. Anyway the ability to smell finally disappeared, and you learn to live with it. This will get me into trouble, but I do regard it as a kind of disability. Matters of personal hygiene, gas leaks, loads of other stuff are suddenly uncheckable; you are closed off completely from a stunningly subtle and gratifying input of information and, mostly, pleasure.

So this book. Grand, it will fill you in on the beautiful world of smell, and I came away from it aching, positively aching to have my sense of smell back. But it's not a self help manual. The author got lucky. The rest of us won't. I didn't finish it actually, don't begrudge the author her happy ending at all, but maybe this book is best read by those who still have a sense of smell. Make the most of it, you lucky so and sos ...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Squeebles VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As someone born as a congenital asnomic I have always felt somehow `apart' from everyday life. Being born without, means I don't miss smells, but I have no concept of any scent at all (nope, not even fresh coffee, bacon or baked bread,). I can taste basic sweet, sour, salty and bitter (umami?), but none of the nuances of herbs & spices, so when cooking I have to follow a recipe to the letter to get an end result that my (full five sense) partner can enjoy.

I never really explored this minor condition as it's caused me little trouble (after all, I'd rather keep my sight, touch, hearing, instead of a sense of smell), so this book gave me so much information about the different forms of anosmia and the human biology behind it all. She goes into depth of the science of scent and smells and interviews both experts and ordinary people while keeping it written in a light and flowing style, including the interaction of her personal life with this disability. I've learnt more about my condition from this book than any of my off-and-on research over the years. Full five star book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Molly writes her personal experience of losing her sense of smell in a moving and honest way, while also giving sound technical and medical information. I lost my sense of smell a year ago and Molly has been able to put into words all the feelings of loss that I too have felt. A wonderful read for everybody but especially those with a smell disorder, it highlights the devastating effect of smell loss, a sense that we take for granted, until it's suddenly gone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smelling the way to reality 8 Nov 2011
By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I can't begin to adequately express how much I enjoyed this book.

As the publicity info indicated, Molly Birnbaum, clearly a highly talented chef-in-the-making, lost her sense of smell and taste as a result of a traffic accident, shortly before she was due to start training at a prestigious Culinary School. This book charts her personal story around the loss of 2 lesser-valued senses, smell and taste, and also contains a more scientific journey into olfaction.

Like Birnbaum, I am someone who had a profound awareness of living in a world full of aroma, a good smell memory, a strong realisation of the fact that the world is full of aromatic messages, and smelled my way around my world with as much pleasure as hearing it and seeing it. Like Birnbaum, I have experienced anosmia. And the loss of the particular pleasure olfaction brings is something I mourn. I've been fortunate not to lose my sense of taste, but from time to time I am anosmic, hyponosmic and, gloriously, sometimes fully scenting - without fully knowing, or being able to predict, why I move through these states rather than having a steady sense of smell

So, I know that part of my extreme pleasure in this book is because it feels personal and pertinent - but even if I were not intermittently anosmic, I would have adored this book. Birnbaum (who after having to give up her culinary dreams, trained as a journalist) is a beautiful and evocative writer, particularly about olfactory and gustatory experiences, painting her way through smells and tastes with her choice of words. I found I could smell the smells she was describing, and taste the tastes, through her ability to engage my imagination fully.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars TOO TRUE 14 Sep 2011
By Alexander Bryce TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My wife has no sense of taste or smell for 95% of the time so she also read this one and can confirm the accuracy thereof . Worth reading for anyone who suffers or lives with someone who suffers from this under rated and seldom mentioned affliction .Our only small criticism is that some of the technical/medical passages are over detailed and at times lost us , but otherwise this is an interesting read even if all your senses are in working order.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Season to Taste Book
Fantastic really inspiring book - written by an aspiring chef who lost her sense of smell (and taste) following an accident - this happened to me too and having read Molly's book I... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mr David Rudge
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotive and engaging
Smell is probably the most overlooked sense in literature, as well as maybe the most difficult to describe on paper, but Molly Birnbaum paints a vivid picture of olfactory delight... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Toast
3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant enough record of Molly's experiences. Not much guidance for...
I found this book to be an enjoyable read. It is a well-written account of the author's experiences and how she adapted to accept her affliction. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Pallus the Phallus
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't really capture my imagination
I love food and I love books about food.

I really liked the idea of this book. The thought of a chef who had lost their sense of smell. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Dr. D. E. Goldwater
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book but...........
I chose this book because I am suffering partial loss of taste - reasons unknown. The title suggests that Molly Birnbaum was going to explain how she coped with loss of taste and... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Pam
4.0 out of 5 stars Loss of smell
A fascinating book into a discourse on one of our most important senses, smell. Taken so much for granted, I also recognise that for myself, it just takes a whiff of something to... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Sandford
3.0 out of 5 stars Third Party Appraisal
I haven't read this book because I got it for a relative who lost her sense of taste and smell many, many years ago, and despite a brief reappearance of both, and numerous... Read more
Published 24 months ago by Paul Pinn
4.0 out of 5 stars Season to taste
A fascinating read, once completed I found I was much more appreciative of my sense of smell. Right from the start it is clear to see just how passionate Molly is about food and... Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2012 by Null Unit
4.0 out of 5 stars Snifftastic
Take the best bits of Julie and Julia, Patrick Süsskind's Perfume and maybe one of those annoying true life memoirs about overcoming adversity and you've got Molly Birnbaum's... Read more
Published on 21 Dec 2011 by Alan Hansen
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but a little flawed
I absolutely love to cook. When I first discovered this book I thought it would be exactly the sort of book I would love: about food, about the beauty of food and about someone's... Read more
Published on 13 Dec 2011 by Amazon Customer
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