Reading: A Feast For The Senses


Reading, for me, is an extraordinarily sensory experience. Some people think that reading engages only certain senses – like sight and touch – but I disagree. Reading a book involves all your senses, which is why it can be a highly pleasurable (and addicting) experience.


This is quite obvious, as we need our eyes to see the words written on a page (unless you’re blind and use your sense of touch to read in Braille). But more than that – for me, whenever I’m reading, sometimes just the mere look of a word can already evoke its meaning. Or to put it differently, the way that a word is written or spelt already conjures an image in my mind of what it is talking about or referring to.


The rustle of pages, the whisper of my finger running through a page, the subtle crack of the spine particularly when I’m holding a hardbound book, the faint scratch of highlighter against paper when I want to emphasise certain passages in the book I’m reading – all these little sounds are heard and absorbed, heightening the reading experience.


I love the heady scent of new books – the sharp tang of ink freshly impressed upon paper, the crisp clean smell of paper, the faint scent of the glue used to bind the pages and book cover together. I love the faint musty smell of old books (which unfortunately triggers my allergic rhinitis, but that doesn’t stop me from loving old books). I love libraries not just for the sheer volume of books it contains, but for the overall smell I have come to associate with it – the mingling scents of both new and old books, the tangy floor wax, even the smell of photocopier ink or toner.


Despite the convenience of e-book readers (I have an iPad which I use when traveling so that I don’t need to fill half my suitcase with books), printed books will always be my numero uno. A big part of reading for me is the engagement with my sense of touch – the heaviness of a tome, the act of flipping a page, the feel of paper against my fingertips, the slight indentation where ink meets paper, the soft wind created when rapidly turning the pages of a book, and feeling the difference in texture between holding a new book (all crisp and smooth) and a well-loved one (softer, nubbier, worn out).


You’re probably thinking – how is that possible? It’s not like you eat a book, so how can this particular sense be involved? Here are a couple of examples: the salty tang of tears while reading a particularly sad or bittersweet moment (just this afternoon, I cried a river while reading the part in the book where the heroine’s dog died), or the bitter taste in my mouth when I read something unpleasant.

With all senses engaged while reading, this physical (and mental) act is a veritable feast for the senses, which explains my love for books and for reading. I can only hope that my future children would hold the same opinion and high regard for it. How about you – do you agree that reading engages all the senses?