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 ...
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.
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.
There is some fabulous, clearly explained science within these pages (lots of it, I revelled in her ability to be so clear about olfaction, the flavour industry, perfumery, the testing of olfactory neurological disorders) However, she also explains a personal, evocative, profound journey about how odour cements and enriches relationships.
This book is a wonderful marriage of head, heart, soul and gut - olfaction and taste are both the most visceral of senses - they are, after all, how we take in 'other' whether that other is the food we eat to live, or the real chemistry, the odour molecules, of the world. We literally breathe each other in. Birnbaum explains both the metaphysics and the physics of this, and how aromatics are part of our 3D experience of the world, profoundly, movingly, and most engagingly.
Highly, highly recommended
Thoroughly enjoyed Molly Birnbaum's "Season to Taste" mainly because it's so beautifully descriptive and has such a sense of warmth, even through the tragedy. So many themes and memories run through this book it's impossible to become bored and, even though Birnbaum introduces you to everything from an apple crisp to her earlier teaching experiences in Africa, you never get lost in the story. Birnbaum guides you through with a sense of smooth anticipation that I can only liken to the different courses on a particularly fine menu. If you're on a diet you may not appreciate the sublime descriptions of food, particularly the overload of butter and sugar, and I found myself with a coffee and cookie far too often while reading. However; this book isn't all about smiles, overindulgence and self gratification it's a testament to the human spirit and it's about overcoming the most brutal of accidents and finding the strength to rediscover yourself, and that takes courage which I'm happy to say Ms Birnbaum seems to possess in spades. Molly Birnbaum has created an unusual, highly personal and utterly charming book here that's a joy to read and is over much too soon. Not just for serious foodies, anyone who enjoys a well written, modern, clean and thoroughly captivating story of personal triumph will love this, I did.
on 13 December 2011
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 personal struggle. True enough, it was all those things.
Molly Birnbaum does a wonderful job of describing her love and passion for food. From the first, I felt I identified with her: she starts by saying 'Instead of writing a college thesis, I read cookbooks in bed.' Ah yes, that sounds familiar...Her love of food and cooking is self-evident; her time working at the Craigie Street Bistrot is a window into a world of fine ingredients and masterful command of those ingredients. I loved it: her descriptions of being tattooed with the scents of herbs she had to pluck from their stems made me sigh with happiness and envy. Sort of envy anyway, I'm not sure I would really want to spend hours doing that.
Then Molly has her accident, with her start date at the Culinary Institute just hovering over the horizon. She is physically broken in so many ways that she doesn't realise until some time later that she has lost her sense of smell. This is where her talent for description was particularly meaningful for me. I am not an anosmic, I can and have always been able to smell perfectly well. So her ability to describe so fully the experience of not being able to smell was brilliant, and heartbreaking. She did this magnificently, as did she convey the sense and extent to which she felt her life was broken beyond repair at having lost this sense. On top of this, the everyday things that you take for granted about being able to smell are also brought to the forefront of your consciousness: this book will make you appreciate your sense of smell, if you are lucky enough to have it.
Thereafter I felt the book teeter-tottered between brilliant and a bit bland. While Molly does describe the tantalising way in which she slowly recovered her sense of smell and the problems she has in identifying smells, I felt it was not really given the attention or examination that it deserved in the book. Her research and interactions with scientists specialising in taste and smell were interesting but not terribly illuminating--essentially boiling down to, no-one knows entirely how smell really works. Far more interesting I thought were her observations of other anosmics or hyponosmics who were being tested by one of these specialists: the curious phenomenon of phantom smells and suchlike being utterly fascinating.
However, I felt Molly's description of her recovery of smell and the effect it had on her recovering her interest in food quite lacklustre. Such as it is I rate the book as 4/5, as it is still a great lament on losing something that is vital to the person you are, and your quest to rediscover yourself after that.
It has been said that different people use different modalities in their conception and communication of ideas. Visual people use expressions such as "you see", sound-oriented people say "do you hear me" and so on. It is clear that Molly is unique in that she bases her conceptual framing around the sense of smell. Reading her account of how she cooks, appreciating, even swimming in this sense clearly shows how deeply into this tangible sense her daily life is.
We know from science that smell is directly hard wired into the brain, and that it is the only sense to directly transit from olfactory centres in the nose straight to the brain which is why certain smells are so evocative and can bring back memories so quickly. This evocativeness comes across so well in Molly's book as she brings to paper exactly the right word to evoke the same sense in her readers.
The book details Molly's experience after a car accident where she lost her sense of small. For any person this would be traumatic enough, however it happened right at the onset of her entry to Chef school. As we all know, most of what we call tastes are really smell, so this was a heavy blow to her aspirations. This book details Molly's fight back as her sense of smell was slowly regained.
I found the book very easy to read; large sections of the book was narrative which was very touching as we share Molly's plight. The rest of the book details the scientific explainations as to what was happening, skillfully woven into the text. This is very well put together and serves as a perfect counterpoint to the more human elements of the book.
I found this book to be very interesting and a pleasure to read. Highly Recommended
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 in this personal tale of coping with a life changing event. Molly, shortly before attending culinary college, has a card crash resulting in her loss of sense of smell. With the majority of what we perceive as taste actually being our brain's interpretation of smell this puts all plans to follower her dream of becoming a professional chef on hold.
The author's feelings, frustrations caused by this loss are described in great detail, transforming such a seemingly simple thing as food into a deeply personal journey of coming to terms with ones lot and adapting to the changes of Molly's new circumstances. The loss of smell effects not just her work, but personal life; an invisible disability which those closest to her do not understand.
A bit heavy going at times, but overall an enjoyable and quite unique read. The sensations and memories that descriptions of smell can be quite powerful and Molly Birnbaum does a fine job in engaging the audience, enabling them to empathise and understand the author's loss and making readers appreciate their enjoyment of food that little bit more.
on 13 October 2013
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.
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.
If your earliest olfactoral memories are of ghastly hospital or school dinners, this book will enlighten you to so many other smelling sensations that might have fleetingly thrilled you at home. If you have taken it all for granted throughout your life, Molly Birnbaum's memoir insists that you've ignored an enormous memory bank.
Birnbaum lost her sense of smell after a road accident. There were multiple physical injuries but the anosmia caused most grief because this injury was invisible, only perceptable to the nose's owner. Following dire prognoses and scant assistance from several doctors, Birnbaum and her closest friends set out to solve the mystery themselves. Chapter at a time, exploring groups of aromas and scents, they dive nostrils first into life in more detail than Molly ever had before. She had always been aware of how different foods excited her senses, now she was hell-bent on breaking through this terrifying solid fog of anosmia.
Though a little repetative, this is still a well-written and heartwarming account of a very personal journey fired by an unusual desperation. A very enjoyable memoir.