A sudden love affair with fragrance leads to sensual awakening, self-transformation, and an unexpected homecoming
At thirty-six—earnest, bookish, terminally shopping averse—Alyssa Harad thinks she knows herself. Then one day she stumbles on a perfume review blog and, surprised by her seduction by such a girly extravagance, she reads in secret. But one trip to the mall and several dozen perfume samples later, she is happily obsessed with the seductive underworld of scent and the brilliant, quirky people she meets there. If only she could put off planning her wedding a little longer. . . .
Thus begins a life-changing journey that takes Harad from a private perfume laboratory in Austin, Texas, to the glamorous fragrance showrooms of New York City and a homecoming in Boise, Idaho, with the women who watched her grow up. With warmth and humor, Harad traces the way her unexpected passion helps her open new frontiers and reclaim traditions she had rejected. Full of lush description, this intimate memoir celebrates the many ways there are to come to our senses.
“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
“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
Alyssa Harad grew up in Boise, Idaho. Her adolescence was spent reading, writing bad poetry and staying up late to study with her friends. To avoid babysitting, she started a small business catering local parties, the first of many food-related jobs. Alyssa completed her undergraduate degree in English at Harvard though she could often be found hiding out in the kitchen where she worked part-time as a baker for the weekly High Teas. After graduating, she returned to Boise to work as a cook at a health food co-op, a small-time journalist, and a creative arts facilitator at a psychiatric hospital. She then pursued her doctorate in English at the University of Texas and throughout graduate school collaborated with therapists and others to work with girls and women, particularly survivors of sexual abuse and trauma. After completing her degree with a dissertation on how literature can bear witness to the long term effects of trauma, she worked as the development officer for a small non-profit.
Coming to My Senses, the book and the blog, grew out of the wonderful, surprising year Alyssa spent becoming totally obsessed with perfume while planning her wedding (after eleven years of happily unwedded bliss). Her writing has appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, The Chronicle Review and the perfume blogs Now Smell This and Perfume Smellin’ things. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, three cats, one dog and a closet full of perfume. Learn more at www.alyssaharad.com.