Jeff Glor talks to Molly Birnbaum about "Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way"
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Molly Birnbaum: I fell in love with cooking when I was in college. I was studying art history, but spent more time with cookbooks than textbooks, more time in the kitchen than in the library. After graduation, I began training to become a chef. But it wasn't long after I began working in a professional kitchen that I went for a jog near my home in Boston and was hit by a car. In the accident, I broke my pelvis, tore the ligaments in my left knee, and fractured my skull. I would later learn that when I hit my head, my brain bounced, severing the olfactory neurons, which run from the nose to the brain. In a split second, I lost my sense of smell.
I knew that the sense of smell was tied to taste and flavor, but I didn't realize how integral it really was until my ability to perceive the scent of butter, of chocolate, of a chicken roasting in the oven vanished. As the weeks and months passed after my accident, I realized that the sense of smell was tied not only to flavor, but to memory and emotion, to sex and relationships. The sense of smell is one of the most important ways we place ourselves in the world, among food and friends and family. But it's also the least studied. There is so much we don't know. Doctors couldn't tell me much about what had happened to me, and if I would ever recover. I wrote this book in order to understand my loss, and why it meant so much. I also wrote this book to show the others (and there are millions of others who, like me, have lost their sense of smell, some who recover and others who don't) that they aren't crazy to feel so affected by the loss, that they aren't alone, and that there is hope.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
MB: First: how long it took. I wrote and rewrote the proposal for this book many times before selling it to Ecco. I wrote and rewrote many different parts of the book before it was published. At times the act of writing and rewriting felt like it would never end. But it did!
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
MB: I'd be a chef. Even when I couldn't smell a thing (I've since recovered, very slowly, over the course of years), I cooked. I couldn't tear myself away from the kitchen. Today, I work as an editor for "Cook's Illustrated" magazine. So even if I'm not actively working in a professional kitchen, I'm not far away.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
MB: I recently finished an advanced copy of Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?", which is hilarious and touching and just plain old awesome. Long a fan of Cheryl Strayed's "Dear Sugar" columns on The Rumpus, I'm halfway through her new memoir, "Wild." She writes with such raw honesty, which I love.
JG: What's next for you?
MB: I have about a million ideas for a next book, and I'm working on pairing them down, slowly, so that I know that what I do next is something I can be passionate about, something I can again happily write, and rewrite, over and over again.
For more on "Season to Taste" visit the Harper Collin's website.