Published by Viking
Publication date: July 5th 2012
Genres: Debut, Memoir, Non-fiction
Alyssa Harad is a 30-something, self-proclaimed feminist and scholar who finds herself at loose ends when a PhD in English and teaching do not work out the way she thought they would. She fills her time as a freelance writer until discovering a perfume blog that piques her interest. Soon, she is consumed by these blogs and anything to do with fragrence. Coming to My Senses is a marvelous memoir of Harad’s journey into a world utterly unknown to her. As an academic, her foray feels frivolous, not something to be discussed in scholarly circles and as a newcomer to fragrance she feels shy and sometimes stymied by her inexperience. Early on when she discovers that a perfume she loves is considered too ‘simple’ her response surprises her.
“I had enough grown-up sense to realize that I was just a beginner an that my tastes were likely to change as I gained experience, but that didn’t undo the not very grown-up fact that I wished they would, and sooner rather than later. I was embarrassed by what I loved, and embarrassed that I was embarrassed, and determined not to give it up.”
In the midst of this new adventure, Harad’s boyfriend proposes to her and what is a book about perfume becomes entwined with the world of being a bride; a world Harad had never dreamt about or pined for. The combination of these two very feminine spheres of influence in her life is a fascinating one. We watch as she continues her exploration of and education in scent and how she navigates the treacherous bridal waters of familial expectations and overbearing bridal shop personnel. She even embarks on a personal fitness regimen
“But it was tricky. I felt the need for caution, for treading with care. I’d had good reasons for turning my back on the endless project of improving my looks. Returning to the fray, I had the feeling of walking along the edge of a roiling swamp thick with the poisonous air of impossible expectations. There were things I wanted, things I needed, from that swamp. But it was going to be difficult not to fall in.”
Like the great perfumers Harad weaves together beginning, middle, and end notes in her tale and each will draw you in as they unfold. She beautifully balances technical details and prose so evocative you almost expect the pages to smell of jasmine, freshly cut grass, and clean sheets. This book is a delight in every sense of the word. Whether you are a perfume fanatic or someone who doesn’t care at all, your interest will be caught by her experiences in both fragrance and life.
“But my new way of paying attention was a far calmer, simpler, more solid kind of pleasure. I wasn’t stretching out toward some idealized person or idea. It wasn’t about losing my heart or my head—it was about coming to my senses. And every sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture was a link to my place in the splendid world at hand.”