by Alyssa Harad
Author Alyssa Harad is a perfumista and a contributor to Perfume-Smellin' Things, one of the perfume blogs I regularly read. In Coming to My Senses, Harad recounts her first year of perfume obsession, which just so happens to be the year leading up to her wedding.
I like perfume. I'm not fluent in the language, nor am I confident in my taste, but I'm interested in moving beyond blog-reading and effortless sampling. So I really am an ideal reader for this book.
Coming to My Senses begins with Harad's awakening to first the language of perfume lovers and then to the perfumes themselves. I enjoyed following Harad on her voyage of olfactory discovery. I loved the details, her openness, her descriptions. Harad begins to write about being a bride about a third of the way through the book. It's at that point that I worry that I'll lose interest in the narrative. As much as I like Harad by this point, I'm not sure that I want to know about her wedding-planning. I worry that it will take away from what I think is the real focus of the memoir. Luckily, Harad manages to remain true to the theme of discovery and perfume both reflecting and enhancing life despite discussing wedding preparation (and a friend's sex change). Strangely enough, though, one of my favorite parts of Coming to My Senses revolves around Harad's bridal shower.
When Harad writes about a particular perfume she doesn't always mention it by name. I understand why (she explains why in her author's note1), but I can't help feeling a bit disappointed. Because I'm still learning about perfume and its myriad nuances, I'd find it so helpful to know exactly which perfume Harad was referencing at any given time. In any case, I enjoyed Harad's writing (especially the more contemplative passages) and her honesty. Coming to My Senses also inspired me to overcome my fear of snooty salespeople and visit a perfume boutique last time I went into New York City. I've also ordered a bunch of samples to try out at home.
One last not-directly-book-related comment -
Harad's author website, promoted in her author's note as where she'll give readers "the latest, updated scoop" (vii), is underwhelming. It has a blog with one post dated June 26, 2012 surrounded by an architecture with lots of intriguing, but empty rooms. Even the Upcoming Events page is out of date. The more I explored the site, the more disappointed I became. I wonder why the publisher's PR people would put together the site and not maintain it (the book only came out last month) and I wonder why Harad agreed to it. One nice, long blog post is worse than none.
- I have provided the names of the perfumes featured when I felt it was crucial to the telling of the story. However, in some cases I preferred to leave the names out and keep the emphasis on the description of their scents and the emotions they evoked at the moment. Doing so allowed me to avoid recommending perfumes that may be discontinued or reformulated by the time this book is published" (vii).
disclosure: I received a review copy of Coming to My Senses from Viking via NetGalley.