cover image Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense

Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense

Bonnie Blodgett, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-61886-188-0

Minnesota garden writer Blodgett (The Garden Letter) lost her sense of smell after using Zicam nasal spray for her cold and had to relearn the central role of smell in the entire makeup of her life. In this thoughtful, informative work, she delves with a layman’s tenacity into the complicated science of smell, its role in evolution, memory, and survival, and how the deprivation affected her own life with her longtime husband, Cam, and two grown daughters. Before the full-fledged anosmia (loss of smell) set in, however, came phantosmia, or being plagued by false smells—in Blodgett’s case, a bad odor like rotting flesh, such as she recognized from the stench of the corpse flower. Traced to the use of Zicam (its ingredient zinc gluconate proved toxic to smell receptor neurons; the FDA has since pulled the nasal spray from the market), her anosmia brought on depression and loss of sexual desire (the role of pheromones). Through her dogged research to understand what was ailing her, Blodgett discovered olfaction’s intimate relationship with the limbic system, which regulates our emotional and instinctive behavior. Thus, robbed of the rich memory tapestry that smell imparted, she couldn’t write, stung by the fear of losing what was real—the pleasures of being human. General readers will find her memoir richly nuanced and broadly researched. (July)