Monday, June 24, 2013

Persolaise Review: Coming To My Senses by Alyssa Harad (2012) + A Give-Away!


In her Author’s Note at the start of Coming To My Senses, Texas-based Alyssa Harad explains that she decided not to reveal the identity of some of the perfumes she mentions in her book in order to “keep the emphasis on the description of their scents and the emotions they evoked at the moment.” I confess my heart sank a little when I read those words. The nerd in me had been hoping for a full-on frag-fest, filled with enough names, dates and Chandler Burr-style, behind-the-scenes anecdotes to give the indexing boffins at Google a hard time. But even though the first few pages of this extremely moving memoir made it clear that, on this occasion, my inner nerd would remain unsatisfied, in the end, I did get a frag-fest after all. It was different from the one I’d expected, but it turned out to be far more memorable than I'd anticipated.

Appropriately, surprises form an important part of Harad’s book. Writing in a self-deprecating, witty style, she explains how she reaches her mid-30s with the help of bookishness, earnestness and a near-religious aversion to consumerism. The materialistic frivolities of life are not for her. And yet, despite her better judgement, an annoying perfume obsession takes hold of her and refuses to be shaken off. If she is at a party and tries mentioning it to one of her equally bookish friends (“a scholar or social worker or therapist or nonprofit director or performance artist - these are the people I know”) she is viewed with suspicion and, on occasion, outright hostility. Surely, she must mean she likes essential oils, they ask, the sorts of things that “scent the air at yoga classes and the massage therapist’s office and the acupuncturist’s.” No, she confesses. She likes perfume.

After that, her plunge down the rabbit hole is a story that will be familiar to many people who’ve typed the words ‘perfume review’ into a search engine. She describes getting stuck into Now Smell This. She engages with forum users. She exchanges messages with other scentusiasts. She enjoys getting to know the voices of the different bloggers whose worlds she enters: she imagines Victoria Frolova of Bois De Jasmin as someone “holding court in a richly appointed salon” whereas Marina Geigert of Perfume Smellin’ Things operates in “a slightly sexier, more intimate room.” She orders scent samples. She awaits their arrival in the post. She wears them with relish, giving in to their contrasting personalities. And yet, all the time, in the back of her mind, there’s a nagging doubt. Is this right? Should she be succumbing to all this... this silliness? Shouldn't she be applying her time to more important pursuits?

Whilst she tries to find the answers to these questions, life keeps flowing. She has an opportunity to go to New York, where she encounters several fragrances not easily available in her corner of the world. Most notable amongst them are the offerings from JAR, which rush through her “like a series of fever dreams” and leave her “giddy from so much beauty.” She discovers Frederic Malle (En Passant strikes her as a “rain-freshened breeze carrying the scent from somewhere down the block”) as well as the more exclusive Guerlains (Plus Que Jamais presents “toffee and pearls and raw silk, at once rich and light”).

By the time she agrees to tie the knot with her long-term partner, her infatuation with scent has reached such profound depths, it’s inevitable that it will play an important part in her marriage. Sure enough, her mother organises a special, scented bridal shower for her, where perfumes from across the ages are used to bring together several generations of women.

Most tellingly, Harad combines these threads into the tale of a transsexual friend who decides to undergo the long, difficult process of turning his female body male. As she watches his curves straighten, as she sees his facial features grow more rigid, as she notices him gravitate towards more ‘masculine’ fragrances, Harad begins to re-assess values she once held dear. She realises that perfume is only as frivolous as we allow it to be. We are creatures of blood, skin and flesh. We cannot help but interact with the world through our bodies. So any object that communicates with us through our physical selves has the potential to touch us with its beauty, to connect us to one another, to make us reconsider our very identities.

In short, perfume enables Harad to surrender to the uncertainty which makes life such a richly rewarding experience. It quite literally helps her come to her senses. And the charm with which she recounts her journey allows her readers - be they long-term aficionados or recent converts - to relive all the excitement that comes with spraying a perfume for the first time and wondering where it’s going to take you, what it’s going to say to you, and crucially, how it might transform you.

[Coming To My Senses: A Story Of Perfume, Pleasure And An Unlikely Bride was published in hardback by Viking last year; its Penguin paperback edition goes on sale tomorrow.]

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Thanks to the generosity of Penguin and Alyssa Harad, I'm able to hold a draw for one paperback copy of Coming To My Senses. For a chance to win this wonderful give-away, please leave a comment on this post on the topic of perfume and transformation. Feel free to interpret the topic as you see fit. And please be sure to read the terms and conditions below.

Good luck!

Persolaise

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Draw Terms & Conditions

i) the draw will be closed at 10 pm (UK time) on Sunday 30th June; ii) the winner will be selected at random; iii) the winner will be announced on Persolaise.com on Monday 1st July; iv) if the winner has not made contact with me by Friday 5th July, an alternative winner may be selected; v) the winner's address will be shared only with Alyssa Harad and the publisher of Coming To My Senses, who will post the prize to the winner; vi) readers from anywhere in the world are eligible to enter; vii) Persolaise.com takes no responsibility for the contents of the prize package; viii) if the prize is lost in transit, it will not be possible for a replacement to be posted; ix) relatives of anyone associated with Persolaise.com are not permitted to enter.

49 comments:

  1. I have always loved scent, but the fall down the rabbit hole had an entirety different purpose other than smelling good. I was going through a period of extreme stress, which I won't go into; suffice to say I lost half my hair and ended up in a psych ward. I had lost the ability to experience the moment due to crippling anxiety and I decided to try an exercise on my own: I would spend time every day concentrating on my five senses. So I would assemble an assortment of items: a silk scarf to touch, a piece of chocolate, music, a picture of artwork and something to smell, taking notice of each item. I became dissatisfied with my perfume choices, found nowsmellthis through a magazine article and that was it. Perfume helped pull me back to life and gave me a hobby to focus on. Thanks for the opportunity, I've been dying to read Alyssa's book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rosarita, thanks very much for sharing, and I'm glad you're better now. It sounds as though you had to draw on tremendous self-discipline during your experience.

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  2. I've heard so many good things about this book and would love a chance to win a copy. Many thanks.

    The ability perfume has to help transform my moods and self-image is perhaps the thing I love about it most.

    An uplifting perfume can help me feel brighter when I'm feeling down and a bold or leathery perfume like Cuir de Russie can transform me into the confident woman I need to be for a while. It really is like alchemy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tara, Cuir De Russie can transform the entire world, can't it? :-D

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  3. I myself have been met with incredulous looks when I happen to mention that I love, and am interested in perfume. I have given up trying to explain my fascination with trying new scents and how I enjoy reading reviews and interacting with other fragrance afficionados. A lot of my friends and colleagues are extremely interested in trying new recipes, travelling to new places, meeting new people but cannot relate that to what I do. The last person who I mentioned my love of perfumes too said "what vanity " !
    Alyssa sounds like she has produced an interesting read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jaki, I know what you mean. Quite a few people I know have claimed that people who 'use' perfume must have very low self-confidence.

      You're in the draw too.

      Delete
  4. My grandmother`s friend`s donated empty minis in the early 60`s got me hooked - and I`ve never!! looked back :-) :-)

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    Replies
    1. Linda, that's all it takes! :-)

      Your name's on the list.

      Delete
  5. This sounds like an amazing story which would hit quite close to home in some ways - I am sure we can all remember our fall down the rabbit hole. While I was never against consumerism I do sometimes struggle with the thought of how much I spend on perfume and what else I could be doing with that money....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dubaiscents, don't get me started :-)

      But then some people spend considerable money on things which I don't consider to be worth a single penny. So, each to their own, I guess.

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  6. I don't know if this will make sense, but to me, perfume lets me be transformed into the person I used to be. It helps me hang on to my old identity. That's why I find reformulation so heartbreaking.

    Thanks for this chance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aga, I think I know what you mean. Perfume as lifeline to the past is becoming an increasingly rare phenomenon.

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  7. I'm not sure if perfume has had such an immensely profound impact on my life that it has resulted in a 'transformation' of sorts. Sure, it's a hobby (some say obsession) that I thoroughly enjoy, and I have indeed found my senses keener than ever (not just my sense of smell!) and become more curious and appreciative of the world. But through and through I'm still mostly the same person as I was before coming by my love for perfumes. Perhaps my point can be put across more coherently like this: while I don't doubt that things can transform us, perhaps it is equally valid to say that the way we innately are even allows us to approach perfume in the way we do without seeing it as something frivolous, but a thing of beauty. But enough of such philosophical ramblings! I'd love to be entered into the draw to read Alyssa's book; she writes well indeed! And thanks for hosting the draw.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vagabond, I'd be quite happy to read some more ramblings :-)

      You're in the draw too.

      Delete
  8. This will be the best prize. I have always seen perfume an a much powerful way than clothes to change your mood and personality. In one day, I go from Pamplelune to Rose De Nuit.

    Thank you,

    Fadia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fadia, yes, it's amazing how many landscapes are opened up to us through just a few sprays of a couple of different scents.

      You're on the list.

      Delete
  9. i often think about my own transformation since my first fascination with perfumes in late 1990s and after i started collecting them in early 2000s..in the beginning, it is only about pleasant smell, then it is about the images they revoke, then it is about the accepted norms of the society they are willing to break (at this stage Koublai Khan has become an acceptable perfume to wear in social gatherings) and finally how smell perceptions have evolved over the decades, particularly since 1940s..in other words, perfumes have finally transformed me into someone who wants to learn more about society's social evolution as well because perfume trends say a lot about society's social norms..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FMC... so when are you going to write your scented social history book? :-)

      You're in the draw too.

      Delete
  10. I feel a sort of transformation every time I spray on some perfume, whether it's in the morning to start the day, a refresher later on, or an application of something for the evening. The sudden spritz of aroma and the smell that stays with me for hours just makes me feel happy! I've always liked perfume, but after falling down the rabbit hole, it just seemed like a whole new world opened up to me. It's great to learn of new releases, experience new scents and read what others with the same interest have to say about things. Thank you for the drawing for Alyssa's book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sunflowers, yes, it's wonderful being exposed to a part of life which might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

      Your name's on the list.

      Delete
  11. I guess my thought is that people can be divided into two groups: the 'signature perfume' folk, who definitely DON'T want to be transfored, and the 'different smell every day' folk, who use perfume to keep changing their personalities.

    Thanks for the draw.

    A Padilla

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A, that's an interesting one! I shall have to give it some thought.

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  12. I like the idea that the transformation journey of a perfume is like the transformation journey of a life, and it's always nice to change this according to the perfume.

    A nice draw

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kennie, yes, so many perfumes end up being associated with life's milestones, don't they.

      Your name's on the list.

      Delete
  13. In my culture, we always give perfume for the wedding, because it means the man and the woman have changed to become one another. This is the big life change.

    I would love to read this book, thank you.

    Hani

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hani, that's a wonderful ritual. Would you mind sharing which culture you're referring to, specifically.

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  14. I've wanted to read this book since it came out, but I haven't been able to buy it yet. Thanks for the chance to win it.

    Trey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trey, it's well worth reading. Any thoughts on perfume and transformation?

      Delete
  15. Perfume transforms everything: our memories, our past, our future, our loves, our hates, our passions and indecisions. It is the marker of all our changes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Harveen: hear, hear!

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  16. I'm surprised nobody has written about how we are the ones who transform perfume. I mean, doesn't it smell different on each and every one of us??

    Thank you for this drawing.

    Alka

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alka, maybe we'd better save that can of worms for another day? ;-)

      For now... you're in the draw.

      Delete
  17. As far as I'm concerned, the one and only reason for wearing perfume - and I type this with not one iota of irony - is to attempt to bring about a transformation of sorts. Make-up. Clothes. Perfume. All these are the tools of artifice we use in order to create the little lies that get us through the day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pauline, I'd certainly agree that that's one of the reasons, but I'm pretty sure it isn't the only reason.

      Your name's on the list.

      Delete
  18. I remember my Mom telling me when I was about fifteen that I should always have a bottle of perfume in my room for those times when you want to accentuate the positive. I've always seen it that way. Thanks for the draw.

    Leena.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Leena, that's a great story. Which perfume did you use when you were fifteen, if that isn't too personal a question?

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  19. Sorry, but I don't see perfume as transformational. I see it as inspirational... but it inspires me to know myself and to know other people, not to change to become someone else. But okay, I realise that 'greater self knowledge' is also like a kind of transformation.

    Thanks for this draw.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ehaab, that sounds like a fair argument to me!

      Your name's on the list.

      Delete
  20. Wouldn't 'Transformation' be a good name for a perfume? I'm amazed nobody has done it yet.

    Thanks for this draw :-D xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A, let's see who does it first!

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  21. Please enter me in this draw. I always appreciate how perfume makes me change my mood after a long flight across the Pacific.

    Thank you very much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anon, yes, a quick spritz is always very welcome after hours spent in recycled air!

      You're in the draw.

      Delete
  22. It is always the same that scent helps you make a change or some kind of improvement. I guess this is why it has been used from the beginning. With me, it always makes me feel like a much more happy, balanced person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oli, I love the idea of scent bringing about a sense of balance.

      Your name's on the list.

      Delete
  23. Hi,

    I think I've had a deeper appreciation, and a more transformative experience, becoming obsessed with perfume late in life. It has allowed me to associate many of the scents with experiences I've had as an adult with emotions, travel, gardening, food and art history. I love the associations that arise from each daily spritz of a new scent. Time stands still, images dance in my head, emotions swell and then I'm ready to move forward.

    Please include me in the draw. Thanks.

    MontrealGirl

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MontrealGirl, that's a wonderful description, thanks for sharing it.

      You're definitely in the draw.

      Delete
    2. It dawned on me that great deal of today's pleasure of being a perfumista is due, ironically, to technology that allow us to access blogs and sites like Fragrantica. Twenty years ago they did not exist and it would have been much more difficult (and lonely) time to discover, share and learn. Even the enriching of the perfume world with niche perfumes is thanks to the combination of Art + Technology. Yup, it is a good time to be a perfumista!!

      MontrealGirl

      Delete
    3. MontrealGirl, I couldn't agree more. The technology has allowed the knowledge and the community spirit to be shared amongst us all.

      Delete
  24. *** THE DRAW IS NOW CLOSED ***

    Many thanks to everyone who entered. Come back to Persolaise.com tomorrow to find out who the winner is.

    ReplyDelete

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