Traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores have proved vulnerable to e-books and the Web, but many new hotels aim to distinguish themselves with old-fashioned pages that guests can actually turn, housing libraries that range from historic collections to trendy ones.
Of course, hotels like the Algonquin in New York, host to the “Round Table” of authors who met there in the 1920s, have long had links to literary figures. But newer literary-minded hotels are establishing places for the reader and browser to go that, in the best cases, further an understanding of the destination.
In Newfoundland, the new Fogo Island Inn features furnishings, crafts made by local artisans and a province-focused library. A pair of modern wingback chairs bookend a fireplace in its Dr. Leslie A. Harris Heritage Library, a spacious room with a large central table ringed by books on Newfoundland culture and history.
The 1,000-and-growing book collection was donated by Harris, past president of Memorial University in St. John’s, and supplemented by Newfoundland publisher Harry Cuff Publications. Its topics range from island folklore and how to salt cod to Newfoundland breed dogs and vernacular architecture.
Not restricted to high-end boutique hotels, lending libraries at the nearly 500 Country Inns & Suites around the United States aim to convey a sense of welcome. The chain offers a Read It and Return It library at each location, allowing guests to borrow one of 75 to 100 titles and, if they are not finished, take it at checkout to be returned at their next stay. Last June, the company announced a partnership with Random House to exclusively supply its shelves.
The library supports the hotels’ sense of home, and the lending program surprises guests, especially grateful parents. “As a matter of social responsibility, reading is important,” said Scott Meyer, a senior vice present at Carlson Rezidor Group who oversees the brand. “We get a lot of positive comments from guests saying they are glad we are promoting literacy.”
Authors sometimes get the star treatment at bookish hotels. In 2011, the W London-Leicester Square hired journalist and author Damian Barr to curate the hotel’s (W)rioters’ Library. He invited 10 writers, including Bret Easton Ellis and Geoff Dyer, to each choose 10 books, then to write an introduction inside the volumes explaining their love for the work.
Two years ago, the Betsy-South Beach in Miami started a writers-in-residence program that offers guest rooms to writers for stays of up to seven days, along with a dining stipend. In exchange, the writer holds a literary salon, lecture or reading open to the public, adding ballast to the beach scene. “People tend to stereotype what South Beach is about, and that stereotyping is wonderfully true,” said the owner, Jonathan Plutzik. “But there’s also a really diverse, interesting, culturally committed community here that embraces the arts.”
When management bought the neighboring Carlton South Beach Hotel in October, it expanded the program to house writers exiled from their home countries for extended stays, the first being Chenjerai Hove, originally from Zimbabwe, a critic of the Mugabe government.
Plutzik believes the philanthropic program helps cast the hotel as the thinking traveler’s choice, while underscoring the natural association between books and travel — when guests actually have the time to read. “That’s why people go on vacation,” he said.