Monday, July 02, 2012

Coming To My Senses by Alyssa Harad- A Book Review

If you're here reading this chances are that you have a perfume story. Some of us grew up aware of fragrance and had perfume-wearing people while others didn't.  Or, in the case of author Alyssa Harad, drifted away from it and assumed a lifestyle that didn't include such frivolous pleasures.  Coming to My Senses is the story of a couple of formative years in Alyssa Harad's life: the time she discovered perfume and learned to see  the world through perfume. Incidentally, this was also the time leading to her wedding and included a career change. And she did all that ordering samples, reading the blogs and feeling somewhat ashamed and self-conscious doing all that.

See, Alyssa Harad lives in Austin Texas. She's been part of a scholarly, politically active and more than a little crunchy-granola community for years. In case you're wondering, this is the kind of environment that gives the stinkeye to "Women Who Wear Perfume" (and also to those using the non-word "stinkeye" in a sentence).  I know the type. They're not much different than the average extrovertly-intellectual never-watch-TV spirituality-seeking Brooklyn hipsters I come across often who raise their eyebrows and wrinkle their noses at my vintage-jeweled makeup-wearing nail-polished beauty (and perfume) blogging self. Alyssa probably got that "Perfume? Really?" question as often as I get the "Beauty blog? Really?" comment, complete with the glazed eyes and a dismissive shrug.

So, yes, I know.

The other parts of Alyssa's journey are less familiar to me personally, but it's a story I've heard from readers many times before. While I found and created my own online perfume world because I was already a  life-long perfume wearer who knew a thing or two about the classics, the nouveau-luxe and the beauty world (and was eager for an outlet to express it all), Alyssa Harad developed her fragonerd ways because she stumbled upon the perfume blogs. From then own she became enchanted and entranced with scents and the words we used to describe them. The book follows that road through blogs, department stores and sniffing sessions with friends as the author opens herself up to new possibilities and experiences.

Alyssa Harad's writing is quiet and introspective. She's open and honest about her insecurities in a way that makes it easy to relate, even if you come from a very different frame of mind. The story has little to no drama, but the scenes and conversations are real and familiar. Those of us who are part of this curious little world will enjoy meeting familiar faces: bloggers, perfumers and some legendary SAs and see them through Alyssa's eyes. The perfume descriptions are evocative and resonant. Some are mentioned by name some aren't (most are pretty easy to figure out, though). My husband was disappointed in that, actually: when he reads about perfume he wants to know exactly what scent it is. Truth be told, the book with its wedding story and mellow nature was far too girly for him. Which brings us to the ever-present question: who should read Coming To My Senses?

When reading a perfume book I always try to imagine what my sister would think about it. She wears perfume every day and has done so since her early teens, but has never kept more than a handful of bottles at any given time. She likes perfume but sees no need to read and talk about it. Should I send a copy to my sister? Probably not. An outsider is probably not going to enjoy (or get) most of it. Does sniffing around Bergdorf and going through the JAR experience makes for a good story? It does for me, obviously. But I can't vouch how others who never met Robert and don't dream of doing so will feel. However, a person who shows an interest in perfume but feels overwhelmed or even intimidated by the noise and chatter of the online community may find in Alyssa Harad a friendly voice as she gently guides them along the way she took.

Coming To My Senses by Alyssa Harad ($16.25 for the hardcover or $12.95 for the Kindle edition on Amazon) will be released July 5th. An advanced copy was sent to me by the publisher's PR. Also, I've been familiar with the author's work in the blogsphre and have been following her on Twitter and Facebook for the last several years.

Art: Psyche opening the Golden Box by John William Waterhouse, 1903.


  1. You may be right that non-perfume people may not be attracted to Coming to My Senses. Bit if they do try it, I think there is plenty there for them. Alyssa's story-telling is great, and the book is not just about perfume. It is about friendship and community and identity and self-expression as well. If it was only about perfume I don't think I would have liked it as much as I do.

  2. I think i am going to ask this for my birthday, sounds like a really neat story (And i am familiar with the JAR experience in BG...). Isn't that Waterhouse painting stunning? They had a wonderful exhibition of a lot of his work and sketches in Groningen (the far north of the Netherlands); seeing his artwork up close and personal was just amazing! Cheers, Wendy

  3. I can't wait to read this. Thank you for this review/preview. And I love your choice of image... perfect.

  4. Re: the hipsters (regardless of geography) who like to make themselves feel *more* (everything), what a garbage way to treat people. Gaia, you nailed it on their M.O. I'm looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

  5. I can't wait to read this. I just came into fragrance discovery till recently. I have always worn perfume and have been captivated by it but I just started to get really serious by spending hours at Barneys or the Neiman Marcus Guerlain collection just a few months ago. I'll be meeting Alyssa this Saturday at her popup event and hopefully she'll be joining me and other SF fragrance nerds as we make our way through the city. I have a feeling that I'll relate to her story immensely.

  6. Wonderful stuff! Have people checked out Strange Invisible Perfumes, located in LA? They make handcrafted perfumes from botanicals. Website is I have enjoyed some of the samples that seem to get even better with time. (not free and there is shipping). I like Arinuma and Fair Verona scents.


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