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Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride Hardcover – July 5, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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

“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

“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)

“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

“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

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (July 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023615
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,401,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had the pleasure - quite literally, the pleasure - of attending a book signing with Alyssa Harad's reading from her book. She pranced about the room blowing bubbles into the crowd from a small, delicate jar; Bellinis and delicious, perfume-scented and gourmet chocolates were consumed and much enjoyed.

I'm a complete bluestocking. I grew up with my nose in a book, like Alyssa, and was suspicious of even makeup until late college. Though I wear makeup now, and pay some marginal attention to fashion, I'm still wary of the entire enterprise of being feminine. However, after the book signing, I feel like I've found a kindred spirit who has explained to me, in the most intellectual yet understanding way possible, that the pursuit of pleasures like perfume *is* worthwhile, and is not merely reserved for the buxom, perfectly coiffed blondes who walk 5th Avenue in thousand-dollar clothes.

Most importantly, Alyssa's story is most beautifully told. Her way with words is completely superb and will make you fall in love with the subject matter, even if it seems at first a little too arcane for you. Her reading was superb - I hope she does the audiobook!

If you like Frances Mayes, Eat Pray Love, and gentle, feminine books to be giggled over and enjoyed with a glass of wine in a bubble bath, this is certainly the book for you, and it couldn't be better written.
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Format: Hardcover
I have had the pleasure of meeting Alyssa Harad a number of times as she planned various promotional activities around her book's release, and she is wonderful to be around. Reading her book is an equal pleasure. Her writing style is fluid and descriptive, and she is adept at creating a mental image of scent, which is very difficult.

I don't think a person has to be a perfume enthusiast to enjoy this book - if anything, it could open up a world of olfactory pleasure that could lead you to a better knowledge of life and sensual pleasures in general. Alyssa's world was changed, and her account of her transformation is one I recommend.
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Format: Hardcover
I first got interested in perfumes when reading Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mystery novels, because that glamorous 1920s-era sleuth always wore Jicky perfume and I had no idea what it smelled like. Well, my online explorations took me to some of the same perfume blogs and books that Harad mentions, and it's great to discover someone else who had the same delighted reaction as I did to this strange and lovely world.

What vivid and evocative descriptions! And how amazing to be able to buy tiny little samples of a scent, dab it on and then compare it to the description: Does this really smell like tinfoil? Or playdoh? Can a smell remind me of a symphony? For me, it was all about playing with words and ideas. And it's fun. But a lot of my friends just looked at me funny when I tried to explain. Not that they were disdainful, just uninterested.

So when I found "Coming to my Senses" by Alyssa Harad, I was absolutely thrilled to find someone who understood what I'd felt when I discovered the world of perfume, and who could express this experience with clarity and humor. She uses perfume as a way to reflect on what it means to be female in our society, how it makes us feel, and how we define ourselves through our senses as well as through our intellects.

Definitely a book worth reading--interesting, fun and insightful.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While this book is about the discovery of perfume and love, the reader also discovers a multi-layered treatise about growing up, becoming aware, and heightening the pleasures in one's life.

Interestingly, I am reading this book in a way I have never read a book before: like a scavenger hunt. I read certain parts over and over; then turn a corner and go to a whole new section, some further ahead, some back. And the book responds to that! I suppose this unplanned form of reading is like perfume itself: One first discovers the high notes, waits a few minutes to dig deeper into the more secretive parts, sees how it feels and smells on one's own skin, and then waits to uncover the lingering, final impression, which stays with one most of all.

Lovers of perfume will adore this book. For those of us that haven't thought of perfume for decades, it will inspire a new appreciation for the complexity and preciousness of it, and make one ponder what wonders still lie in the World that we must spur ourselves on to discover.
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Format: Hardcover
In the same way that food can serve as the driving trope in great food writing, perfume becomes both catalyst and metaphor in Alyssa Harad's gorgeous memoir about becoming a woman in full.

It starts with an obsession with language. Stagnating in the aftermath of graduate school and puffy from years of study, Harad stumbles on a perfume blog and loses herself in the purple prose of the perfumistas. The world is a foreign to Harad, a properly indoctrinated academic feminist, and she is both attracted and embarrassed by this sudden new interest. When she finally manages to brave the cosmetics counter (c'mon nerdy girls, you know what it's like, that phalanx of black-smocked women armed with spritzers and opinions about your looks--you with your insecurities tumbling out of your pocketbook), she is undone by a spritz of that full-busted contralto from the 1980s, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum.

Sniffing and a wedding ensue as does the emergence of her voice as a writer.

Read it. Dream about finding your signature scent. And head to the grocery trailing Jo Malone or Hermes or Guerlain, where even in flip-flops and a t-shirt you'll be making a statement.
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