Cover Image: Deep Sniff

Deep Sniff

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Member Reviews

Love it! Absolutely amazing book about the importance of poppers to queer culture.
This is one of those 'secret history' kind of books, where an element of a subculture is extended out into a larger coherent idea. It's a really fun and funny read too.
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A must read for anyone into queer history. This book is absolutely fantastic and shows a real level of understanding of queer culture.
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Half a history of the development, marketing and use of poppers, half a treatise on queerness and an insightful examination of LGBTQ+ culture and rights in the UK, this book considers the past, the present and possible futures through a grounded yet artistic lens. 
In the chapter aptly named Sex/Death, the dubious history of linking poppers and HIV/AIDS (there is no link, beyond people using poppers during sex and HIV being sexually transmitted). It is one of my favourite bits of the book for how it places this connection with the social context, by deconstructing the view of a ‘correct’ or ‘moral’ sex, and how a connection between sex and death plays into the hands of those who position their ‘moral’ sex against an ‘immoral’ sex - the queer sex. The author says, in a later chapter on media representation of poppers, that “if this book is a plea for anything, it is for pleasure.” This is what makes it so much more than a history book, because the history of poppers is inextricably linked to queer sex, which rejects sex as baby-making or confined within social strictures, and centres pleasure.
I was drawn to this book out of curiosity about the history, but the elements of memoir are what I really fell in love with - the use of poppers is considered from an enthusiastic and deeply personal perspective. It is fast-paced and provocative, which makes it an easy read (but don’t go in expecting deep theoretical consideration.) At times it falls prey to the slightly chaotic style, but it is a joyful exploration of queer culture that I devoured quickly.
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This was okay! The history was interesting, but the writing could have been tightened up a little more. I didn’t really enjoy the snippets in between chapters.
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Deep Sniff is ambitious and mad and messy and sincere and in love with queer history and discovery. It's also a little cringe in the best way. We need more queer theory like this.
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Half a detailed history, half a memoir. I definitely enjoyed both halves, I just wish either one of them had been complete! I would have liked a lot more in-depth detial about the history and science of poppers, or a full, detailed memoir.
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A great, broad-ranging cultural history of poppers. Zmith's style is at times fragmentary, darting back and forth across timelines, drawing references from a multiplicity of media, history and theory — but it is ultimately held together by a central thesis that the pleasure principal embodied by poppers and the subsequent freedom which this inspires in its users can be used to imagine a queer future unbound by the current paradigm.
I did find the attempts at humour occasionally jarring or misplaced, but in general the book feels breezy and uncomplicated — unconcerned with being something other than what it is.
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First off, I must admit something: I bought this book purely out of my own curiosity and without my profession in mind. Because I work for a small library in a fairly conservative town I don't know if I would be able to purchase this... which is partially why I wanted to purchase it at all. I wanted to read it first to be sure, and I am pleasantly surprised at how meticulous Adam Zmith is in explaining the history and culture surrounding poppers. I learned so much into this subculture I've only had a passable familiarity with.

Thank you to Adam Zmith and Repeater for allowing me to read this.
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idk what i just read but i sort of liked it? 

This is a history of poppers (remarkably, specifically, intensely pro-poppers) that is a lot less linear than i might expect a history to be? Which i sometimes loved, and sometimes found hard to follow. The intensity of rootedness in queerness was great, and i was especially interested in the moral panic around sex that coincided with homophobic AIDS panic--how they sort of wove in and out of each other. I think in summary i might have liked either the history book portion of this OR the personal narrative portion, but together they were challenging for my brain. I think i am not artsy enough? Which! Is often how i feel about certain forms of queerness! So that works well.
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As someone who has only heard of poppers from television shows like Queer as Folk, I was really interested to learn just what it actually was. Deep Sniff by Adam Zmith totally filled in the blanks with this comprehensive and personal account of the history of poppers and how and why it came into existence. While delving into the history of amyl nitrate, the author weaves in the history of being gay in the UK and the US during the AIDS epidemic and gay rights while all the while not feeling like a history lesson. At times crude, Zmith reveals exactly why the queer community loved and continues to use poppers and argues that the stigma of poppers being strictly for homosexuals has been a missed opportunity for manufacturers and a denial of pleasure to the general public. 

Deep Sniff feels relevant and current as it was written during the Covid-19 lockdown so we really get a look at how attitudes and laws have changed regarding poppers from the 1800’s until the present. Written from the perspective of a gay man, this book is a pertinent book for anyone interested in gay history, but also as a look at our culture and the effects of labeling everything. I enjoyed this book a lot, I would recommend.
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Deep Sniff by Adam Zmith is not my typical read but I truly enjoyed this deep dive into a particular genre of history. There is a lot to unpack in this book, stories of the past interwoven with ruminations about the present and predictions for the future. My favorite aspect was going back in time and learning about queer culture through well-researched & deeply personal stories.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my copy of this book. 

I can remember vividly the first time I took a hit of poppers . I was 22 years old and my friend Zach passed me the amber bottle and mimed the motions to inhale. I took my first hit and my body melted like butter .  Quickly the world vanished around me and the steady thumpa thumpa thrummed in my head .  It was a transcendent experience , there is really no other way to explain it . The feeling of everything and nothing all at once . In the book Deep Sniff , author and social commentator Adam Zmith , explores the history of this seemingly innocuous substance and it's deep roots in the Queer community . How a substance with such fleeting effects could have such an enduring hold on us . Part historical account part love letter to the pursuit of pleasure . The author explores the widely misunderstood and often vilified nitrate. This book was not at all what I expected and I couldn't be more delighted by this fact . More than just a linear account of how poppers became a mainstay of gay life ; Zmith digs into why a substance for pleasure has been made a stand in for it's users . Why do we cast downward glances at the pure carnal pursuit of pleasure ? What does it mean that a vapor that facilitates such pleasure is often made the Boogeyman ?  This book is a gem of queer history and a deeply personal account of one person's experience with it . Unlike the tunnel vision you experience on poppers this book is rich with nuance and varying points of view. I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it.
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This was a well-written read that dances through the history of poppers, queer culture, gay men, commercialism, and a great deal more. It does so with a lovely sense of place, grounded in nightclubs, Gay Switchboards, bator Zoom chats, even giving the sense of what it might be like to watch a popperbator video on xtube. No chapter feels superfluous, and all the information is deeply interesting. Zmith jumps from queer history, to queer theory, to queer media studies, to queer commercialism, and a great deal more besides with deft aplomb, realising his vision from start to finish, both simultaneously evoking the past, the present, and the future. 

This book is tightly written, with an open focus, it's sensual, grounded, but also transcendent, seeking to transcend the concept of labels while also being completely dependent on labels throughout. Zmith seems to have a tense relationship with labels and categories, both advocating for doing away with them (from the very beginning, we can tell he is not quite comfortable with either 'gay' or 'man' despite then settling into 'gay man' as the perspective from which the book is written - though 'white gay man' would have been more honest), while being unable to do away with them. The future he envisions is one that seems to want to embrace the open, dizzying, pleasurable seconds that poppers create in the mind and body, which is admirable, but I don't know if it's one I want as a fellow queer, which makes the experience of reading this review copy really fascinating, rewarding, and thought-provoking. 

I will say two things that jumped out at me as being either significant omissions or inclusions. This book has a kind of timidity when approaching the subject of poppers and people of colour. I have no idea how people of colour - even gay men of colour - engaged with poppers because this book doesn't really go there. People of colour *are* mentioned, and always respectfully, but it makes up what feels like less than 1% of the book. So if that's the queer history you're looking for, you won't find it here. 

The second is that if you're familiar with BDSM, you will read an extremely narrow and limited viewpoint of what it means to be dominant and submissive, which is fine if you think 'this is autobiographical and not trying to reflect the community' and less fine when you realise that's not what Zmith is trying to do. A one-dimensional idea of domination as objectification and denigration only (sigh) suggests a real absence from the actual BDSM community, or a limited idea of what this is. Just as some people think poppers are only something that 'deviants' use, I fear Zmith might need to have his mind blown open on just how diverse BDSM can actually be, especially once you realise that it doesn't just belong to leathermen communities, and that leathermen communities themselves have embraced different manifestations of dominance and submission. Thankfully that's only a small part of one chapter, but to me it detracted from the open-mindedness of the book overall, since that section read as closed-minded and myopic. 

Overall Deep Sniff is an encouragement to get you thinking about drugs and drug use, why we push pleasure and the pleasure principle down in our list of priorities and what that might mean for us as individuals and communities, the commercialisation of machismo and how that creates the idea that certain drugs 'belong' to certain communities when they don't (poppers can be used and enjoyed by anyone, but they're largely associated with white gay male communities, and marketing - as well as gatekeeping - is a huge part of that). It's an embrace of the other, and the arts. I was delighted to see Zmith referring to 'people who have periods' instead of the incorrect 'women who have periods.' And though this book is more a history of (white) gay men and poppers than it is anything else (it's honest about this from the beginning), I still felt seen and included as a nonbinary transmasc kinkster, simply because of the awareness of the QUILTBAG community, the queerness that leapt from the pages, and the familiarity of the way we sometimes end up thinking about sensuality, pleasure, drugs, relating, connection, and our future. 

A must read for anyone who is interested in poppers for a start, but also for many in the QUILTBAG community who wish to know more about their history (and their futures). There's a lot of lovely knowledge in here, much of it presented with the spirit of curiosity, and not coercion. Zmith wants you to think about your own queerness and connection to the world, and your connection to others, and what queerness might come to mean going into a queerer future, and that's the kind of thing I enjoy thinking about, so I'm extremely happy to have read this.
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Excellent account of a must misunderstood part of club culture and gay culture. Manages to be informative without being at all dry.
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An interesting way of delivering queer history through the POV of one particular substance. Discussing its role in the AIDS epidemic and advertising. Not what I was expecting to read but truly I don’t think I really knew what I was walking into. Not for public reading 😂
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I've used and been around poppers since I was about sixteen, and then later sold them when I worked in a sex shop, but I've never even considered where they came from! It's so fascinating, part science, part history, part sociology. I'm learning a lot! It's so impressive to me how you can take something so every day and then analyse its history, present, and future, and make it so interesting. It's also brilliant to see more queer writers and academics explore parts of our culture that are less palatable to the cis&hetronormative gaze.
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This book gave a fascinating historical background on an aspect of the LGBTQ+ community many seem eager to cast aside for fear of seeming "unclean" to a heteronormative world. The aspects of this book that shone were the author's usage of personal stories mixed with facts about the subjugation of queer people throughout history, and how we have overcome that oppression and found community.
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Deep Sniff by Adam Zmith is a fun and fascinating trip through the history of poppers and into an idealized queer future. Whether you're familiar with poppers or have just heard of them, this will be the kind of read that surprises you as you go.

I read another review and found it interesting that we saw many of the same qualities yet interpreted them differently. It is a good review, doesn't trash the book, but sees disjointed jumping between product history, cultural history, memoir, and speculation where I see the weaving of these into a whole. Albeit an imperfect whole, but not nearly as disjointed as that person sees. That may be because of my past, most of my study and research was interdisciplinary and I am accustomed to reading accounts that weave different threads into a new cloth.

I do think that some readers may only find certain aspects interesting, maybe the cultural/social history and memoirish parts because of the nostalgia (good or bad) or the history of the product itself, which is part basic science and part marketing/PR history. I also believe that the aspect that may miss some readers is also the part that I think Zmith is still likely forming, namely the speculation about some better, or at least different, queer future. Like any speculative theorizing this is a work in progress, so readers should read this as a contribution to the discussion, not the entire discussion.

I would recommend this is those interested in queer studies, as well as those who simply want to know more about a common pleasure enhancer.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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An eye popping all encompassing engrossing and often humorous history of amyl nitrate sniffers poppers and party poopers. Interesting and educational. One for curious minds and anyone interested in queer culture and historical perspective.
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A short book about the cultural meaning of poppers and their relationship to pleasure and gayness. They’re apparently still widely available in the UK and the USA, “thanks to a pact between authorities and sellers. Everyone agrees to say that these products are not for human consumption, which means they are labelled with fake uses like ‘room odouriser’ and ‘boot cleaner.’” Interestingly, unlike with opiates, pharmacos apparently were actually worried that people—that is to say, young gay men—were using the product for pleasure and reported that to the FDA. I guess pleasure that makes you want to have sex (Zmith repeatedly emphasizes how poppers can be used to relax physically for anal sex) is more morally concerning than pleasure that just makes you happy. Zmith also argues that popper marketing participated in the promotion of a muscular, aggressive gay masculinity, e.g., an ad for Locker Room poppers “showed a butch superhero with a six-pack, cape and battering-ram thighs leaning against a locker door beside the words ‘Purity power potency.’” Thus poppers “were both countercultural, simply by being gay, and also deeply conventional in how they were marketed.” Zmith also discusses how moral panics over poppers were intertwined with moral panic over AIDS—indeed, one contrarian insisted for many years that it was poppers, and not HIV, that caused AIDS. I loved the bit about disputes at a gay hotline over what to say about poppers—one volunteer wrote, “People who sniff poppers need an extra physical kick from sex as they get no emotional satisfaction,” while another responded, “You sanctimonious tie-wearer.” The bit on popper vids—clips from multiple porn videos edited together with a soundtrack and instructions about when exactly to sniff—was also very “through a glass darkly” from my own fannishness.
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