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Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way Hardcover – June 21, 2011

40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“After reading Birnbaum’s smart, lovely book, readers will be reminded to savor their next meal, each fragrant bite.” (Boston Globe)

“Tantalizing. . . . A pilgrimage out of devastation, toward reclaiming the dream of being a chef. . . . Where [Birnbaum] ends up will surprise you, much as it did her.” (Washington Post)

“Rich and insightful. . . . A veritable feast for the reader.” (Charlotte Observer)

“Powerfully explores the science of smell and its ties to emotion, love and even memory. . . . A truly mouthwatering read.” (BookPage)

“Moving and informative.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Fascinating and vivid. . . . Packed with information and a great read to boot. I was smitten.” (Library Journal)

“A culinary-minded journalist . . . movingly depicts the nearly ineffable plight of the anosmic . . . alongside passages of sweeping journalistic discovery of all things olfactory. A brave, unflagging memoir.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A Summer Hot Read.” (New York Post)

“A fascinating, illuminating and heartwarming read and a revelation of how aroma is woven, in intricate and complex patterns, through the tapestry of our lives.” (Frangrance Forum)

“Molly Birnbaum writes with great curiosity and depth, reawakening in us all the sense of taste that we take for granted.” (Amanda Hesser, author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

“Molly Birnbaum’s fascinating book takes her--and us--deep inside the mysterious world of scent. Her writing about this unseen force is fresh, smart, and consistently surprising. If this beautifully written book were a smell, it would be a crisp green apple.” (Claire Dederer, bestselling author of Poser)

“A wonderful book about life’s unexpected turns, about love and its complexities, and about the ineffably mysterious human brain. I couldn’t stop telling people about it, while I was reading it. It will make you see your nose, your life, and your most important decisions in a whole new way.” (Maile Meloy, bestselling author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It)

“Molly Birnbaum’s fascinating journey, told with charm and compassion, is ultimately a story of triumph. A book for food lovers, sensualists, and all of us in search of our true heart’s desire.” (Kim Sunée, bestselling author of Trail of Crumbs)

From the Back Cover

An aspiring chef's moving account of finding her way—in the kitchen and beyond—after a tragic accident destroys her sense of smell

At twenty-two, just out of college, Molly Birnbaum spent her nights reading cookbooks and her days working at a Boston bistro, preparing to start training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. She knew exactly where she wanted the life ahead to lead: She wanted to be a chef. But shortly before she was due to matriculate, she was hit by a car while out for a run in Boston. The accident fractured her skull, broke her pelvis, tore her knee to shreds—and destroyed her sense of smell. The flesh and bones would heal...but her sense of smell?And not being able to smell meant not being able to cook. She dropped her cooking school plans, quit her restaurant job, and sank into a depression.

Season to Taste is the story of what came next: how she picked herself up and set off on a grand, entertaining quest in the hopes of learning to smell again. Writing with the good cheer and great charm of Laurie Colwin or Ruth Reichl, she explores the science of olfaction, pheromones, and Proust's madeleine; she meets leading experts, including the writer Oliver Sacks, scientist Stuart Firestein, and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel; and she visits a pioneering New Jersey flavor lab, eats at Grant Achatz's legendary Chicago restaurant Alinea, and enrolls at a renowned perfume school in the South of France, all in an effort to understand and overcome her condition.

A moving personal story packed with surprising facts about our senses, Season to Taste is filled with unforgettable descriptions of the smells Birnbaum rediscovers—from cinnamon, cedarwood, and fresh bagels to rosemary chicken, lavender, and apple pie—as she falls in love, learns to smell from scratch, and starts, once again, to cook.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061915319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061915314
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Philip Henderson VINE VOICE on May 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Molly Birnbaum invites her readers to understand how the world is to a person who has lost her sense of smell. Well-written, informative, and mysterious, Season to Taste explores the many ways that our ability to detect odors contributes to our enjoyment of everyday activities. The olfactory sense often is taken for granted. Nearly everyone can smell the odors that surround us. We know that the olfactory sense in dogs and cats is superior to ours, however there is no common olfactory acuity test to determine whether my ability is average, above or below average. I don't know and I don't care if my acuity is as good as or better than yours. If I lose my vision, I become blind; if I lose my auditory ability, then I am deaf. What are you called when you lose your ability to smell? You are called an anosmiac. However, there is a great deal to learn about the human brain by discovering what happens when a person loses her sense of smell.

In Season to Taste, Molly Birnbaum takes the reader on her personal journey as she loses the ability to experience olfactory sensation. Molly Birnbaum loses her olfactory ability due to a blow to the head in an automobile accident. She soon learns that of the more than 2 million Americans who are unable to smell the world, only a very few are able to regain their sense of smell. Worst, there are no medical treatments that offer hope. You lose your sense of smell, then you have to learn to get used to this loss.
Molly is not satisfied with the prognosis. She sets on a path to restore her olfactory sense recognition. Because she cannot smell, she also cannot taste. Food has texture. Just using your tongue food can be sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or spicy hot . . . however with anomsia, all the nuances are gone.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rabid Reader VINE VOICE on May 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As someone who has always had an extraordinarily keen sense of smell, the topic of this book was fascinating to me. What is life like for those who cannot smell at all? We hear a great deal about those who struggle with the inability to see or hear, but the inability to smell is rarely brought up as a "handicap".

This book helped me to see that the inability to smell does handicap an individual in ways that are significant; compromising safety (an inability to smell a gas leak or a fire or if food has gone bad), relationships (the inability to know if unpleasant body odor is present or if someone has been drinking) and the general enjoyment of life (the smell of pine and peppermint at Christmas, the smell of bread in the oven or a steaming cup of hot coffee). Life without smell quietly loses a layer of dimension that most of us take for granted.

The author weaves her personal experience of loss with an explanation of the science of smell, bringing them together in an enjoyable book that is neither too depressing nor too optimistic in tone. Once you've read it, you'll know a little more about smell, a little more about what it means to be "handicapped", and a lot more about the complexities of all of the pieces of the puzzle that constitute "sensory experience".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By atmj TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
While reading this book, I found it ironic that a book written about a sense that was lost, would have so much sensory detail within. Each chapter was filled with descriptions of how autumn smells, how fragrant an apple pie can be, how certain smells elicit emotions. When we obsess we don't do it in a small way.

The author a young woman poised to start her education at the coveted Culinary institute of America to become a chef, gets her plans derailed by a freak accident and a complete loss of her sense of smell. Smell being so intertwined with taste makes it impossible for her to consider continuing on with her plans of becoming a cook.

This book described the author's feelings of confusion and loss in the face of such a setback. Her mourning for her sense of smell fills this book with graphic recollections of what she no longer can perceive. Food is lacking. It is now only a sweet, salty texture lacking all the nuances that a good cook needs. However she also realizes the loss of smell has made her vulnerable in the part it plays in safety and in human connection. She cannot smell smoke or the cologne of her boyfriend. With someone so cued into smell for her occupation, this is no less than an amputee's sense of loss for a limb. However to everyone around her, her loss is not visible.

The author pursues this subject (loss of smell) with a vengeance and consults experts in the medical field, the scientific field the culinary field and industry as well. Her research is scientific and detailed. She fills in the research with the details of her life as she rebuilds it.

I can't help but wondering if this this accident in someways was fortuitous. The author an excellent writer and beginning chef was forced to pursue another avenue of employment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Julie D. VINE VOICE on May 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having been admitted to the Amazon Vine Program I was eager to find a book to try that I would not normally come across. This one, in which Molly Birnbaum relates her loss of smell due to a head injury and intersperses her story with delving into the science of smell, filled the bill. What makes Birnbaum's loss of smell, and subsequent almost complete loss of the ability to taste, all the more painful is that she was set to go to the Culinary Institute of America to begin training as a chef. Watching her learn to deal with her unexpectedly debilitating infirmity is fascinating and is making me more aware of all the scents that make the pattern of my life.

Birnbaum is an unexpectedly good writer. Possibly because she had to focus on the visual and textural aspects of food and the world around her after losing her sense of smell, she describes her environment and experiences in a way that takes the reader into her world. This can be unexpectedly jarring when she points out aspects of scent that affect us daily in ways that we never thought about. For example, if one isn't smelling pine or mint or some other vivid fragrance, can we remember what it is like? It was rather disturbing to realize that I couldn't actually do so in the way that I can recall a flavor. These experiences enhance our appreciation for what Birnbaum and others deprived of scent go through. The science of the book was interesting and I appreciated the fact that it was interwoven with the personal story. This added gravity to Birnbaum's story and lightened the science enough to take it all in. Her quest takes her to science labs, Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory, perfume experts, and a chef who managed to keep cooking despite developing tongue cancer.
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