Synopses & Reviews
A sudden love affair with fragrance leads to sensual awakening, self-transformation, and an unexpected homecoming
At thirty-six—earnest, bookish, terminally shopping averse—Alyssa Harad thinks she knows herself. Then one day she stumbles on a perfume review blog and, surprised by her seduction by such a girly extravagance, she reads in secret. But one trip to the mall and several dozen perfume samples later, she is happily obsessed with the seductive underworld of scent and the brilliant, quirky people she meets there. If only she could put off planning her wedding a little longer. . . .
Thus begins a life-changing journey that takes Harad from a private perfume laboratory in Austin, Texas, to the glamorous fragrance showrooms of New York City and a homecoming in Boise, Idaho, with the women who watched her grow up. With warmth and humor, Harad traces the way her unexpected passion helps her open new frontiers and reclaim traditions she had rejected. Full of lush description, this intimate memoir celebrates the many ways there are to come to our senses.
"The age of 36 was a watershed year for Harad: after earning her Ph.D. in English she found herself adrift, no longer wanting the busy life she'd created, longing to be a writer but unsure how to go about it. While avoiding work on a freelance project, she Web surfed to a perfume blog, and everything changed. She became hooked on the writers' paeans to scent, and although her attraction to perfume contrasted with how she saw herself ('a serious, Birkenstock-wearing feminist'), she was unable to resist first taking a nervous trip to the mall to smell a featured scent and, as her fascination grew, immersing herself in the real-world community of perfume devotees. She fulfills her new thirst for knowledge through travel and study; she joins a local perfume salon in Austin, Tex., ventures into the perfume sections of Bergdorf's and Barney's in Manhattan, and, no longer able to contain her enthusiasm, charms everyone with stories, recommendations, and delight at her perfume-themed bridal shower in Boise, Idaho. This memoir is lovely and evocative, as Harad becomes more comfortable with herself and her open appreciation for things, like perfume, that are about beauty and pleasure. An appendix will help converts stock their own perfume closets. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Few delights match the instant, primal gratification given by a beautiful fragrance—yet too often we ignore the power of this sense. Alyssa Harad’s fascinating (and often funny) story of how she became bewitched by the pleasures and culture of perfume will give readers a new appreciation for scent's intimate role in their lives.”
—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
“By turns witty, sensuous, and poignant, Coming to My Senses is a book that demands to be savored and shared. And I challenge anyone to read this without ransacking the dark corners of their closets and cosmetics bags for a scent to put on, and then another and then another…”
—Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches
“Not since Virginia Woolf argued on behalf of feathered hats in 1920 has an aspect of feminine culture had such a gorgeously erudite—and feminist—champion. Alyssa Harad’s beautiful memoir performs the delicate, generous work of loving both perfume and the women who wear it—our mothers, grandmothers, friends, even ourselves. Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too: attar of roses, tuberoses, and while we're at it, honey, and jasmine, and gardenia, and vetiver, and myrrh.”
—Ellis Avery, author of The Last Nude
“I thoroughly enjoyed Alyssa Harad's loving depiction of the convivial fragrance community around the world, and the joys of living a perfumed life.”
—Mandy Aftel, perfumer and author of Essence and Alchemy
“Plenty of writers have given us the language we need to understand food and taste more fully. Now, Alyssa Harad has done the same for the sense of smell. Coming to My Senses is a beautifully written and deeply personal read that proves the transformative power of scent.”
—Anne Zimmerman, author of An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher
“Didn’t anyone tell Alyssa Harad that scent resists translation into words? In this elegant and witty memoir, she turns aroma into prose so naturally they seem like a single form of expression. I was delighted to find in one clear-eyed book a convincing romance, a novelistic parade of quirky characters, and a lyrical ode to the mysterious thrill of being alive.” —Michael Sims, author of Adam’s Navel and The Story of Charlotte’s Web
“Harad recounts her Kate Chopin-like awakening to the sensual joys of perfume and the fulfillment, happiness and fragrant friendships that follow.” —Denise Hamilton, Los Angeles Times
“Harad charms everyone—with stories, recommendations, and delight. . . . This memoir is lovely and evocative, as she becomes more comfortable with herself and her open appreciation for things, like perfume, that are about beauty and pleasure.” —Publishers Weekly
“A charming memoir about how a woman’s ‘torrid affair’ with perfume changed her life. . . . As Harad learned to put perfume scents into words and understand the complex ways in which perfumes unfold upon the skin, her desire to experience other scents grew. . . . But most surprisingly of all, Harad found herself reclaiming a femininity that she had disowned. . . . Like a good perfume, this book is slow to unfold, but the author’s account of her experiences is well worth the wait. A quiet delight.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Inspirational . . . Woodsy and seductive, with a hint of spice, Coming to My Senses offers a luscious immersion in the world of perfume obsession. But what makes this memoir so appealing are its deeper notes, the ones that linger on after reading: the story of a how a no-nonsense, underemployed English Ph.D., who usually dresses like 'an unmade bed,' discovers the pleasures of femininity and her own senses through an affair with fragrance.” —Catherine Hollis, BookPage (Top Pick)
“Bursting with sensuous delights . . . Throughout the book, Harad manages to pull off word sorcery, layering one scented note of description atop another, until the reader is afloat in a sea of sensations ranging from louche to pristine. One is ridiculously tempted to put one’s nose to the printed page and sniff, as if the paper might somehow carry the scents that would complete the experience of reading about perfumes. . . . Harad was fortunate: Her accidental discovery of perfume helped make her less shy, more confident in herself. It also helped her become a beautiful, happy bride and a better writer. What greater magic could any woman ask?”—Dallas News
“This is a book that arouses and galvanizes the senses—all of them. . . . The very word puts a lot of us on edge—perfume—but turns out it’s just the elbow crook inching open the door into Harad’s memoir, which is as much about her surprise at delighting in perfume’s history, community, and aromatic allures as it is about her own reckoning with what it means to be a woman. . . . For the reader, her pleasure is catching.” —Austin Chronicle
Honest and beautifully written—a nuanced exploration of femininity and pleasure through the enchanting world of fragrance
Alyssa Harad’s affair with scent begins in secret, late at night, by the glow of her computer screen when she stumbles on a blog devoted to perfume. Bookish and practical, and a stranger to beauty counters, she is surprised to find herself lured into a sensual underworld of quirky characters that changes her mind about much more than perfume. Candid, elegant, and full of lush description and humor, Coming to My Senses
takes readers from a private museum of rare essences in Austin, Texas, to the glamorous fragrance showrooms of Manhattan, and finally to a homecoming in Boise, Idaho, to prepare for Harad’s wedding. This deeply personal story reveals the intimate connections between scent, our senses, and the people we are and want to become.
About the Author
Alyssa Harad grew up in Boise, Idaho. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard and a PhD in English from the University of Texas. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine and the perfume blogs Now Smell This and Perfume-Smellin’ Things. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband.