The Help Desk: Sentimental, old, and smelly

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

My granddad died in the spring. He left me all of his books. The gesture meant a lot to me. He used to read to me when I was a baby, and I remember spending hours in his study when I was a kid, flipping through his books. So now they're my books. But there's a problem: they stink. My granddad was a heavy smoker and I'm not. His books reek of cigarette smoke. I've looked around online and the solutions for this are complicated and seem like they might not work. Am I a terrible person if I give these books away? Will anyone even take them? They really, really smell bad.

Jim, Renton

Dear Jim,

I empathize. When my grandmother, Berta, died on Christmas Eve a few years ago, my mother inherited the chair she died in and I inherited her death suit: a fuzzy blue robe and dog-hair enhanced red slippers. Everything smelled like ham and stale Easter candy. So loud was the candy-ham stench that cats and men in camouflage named Rufus started showing up asking vague questions, or mewing, with shifty eyes. I took up not bathing just to mask the odor.

Have you considered not bathing? It frees up a lot of time for reading!

Most babies have shit taste in books, so I hesitate to guess what your collection could entail. Still, I suggest going through and choosing one or two that have sentimental value. Carefully pack those books in a drawer with aromatic soaps (or a candy-ham combo), which will help the smoke smell dissipate after a time. Then, organize a party (New Year’s is a fine excuse) and sacrifice the rest of your grandfather’s collection to a roaring bonfire. I know book burnings are still gauche everywhere except church parking lots and the odd Trump rally, but still: donate books in such terrible shape and they’ll end up in the dump anyway. You might as well celebrate in style with friends, family, and a smokestack worthy of your grandfather’s memory.