As hotels seek to distinguish themselves with extravagant amenities such as pillow menus and bath butlers, one hotel feature that has regularly offered me the most pleasure while traveling is a hotel library, or well-chosen books in guest rooms.
During a recent stay at the lovely Yeatman hotel in Porto, I immediately felt more at home in my room because it was furnished with a wonderful assortment of books about Porto and Portugal. I had finished the book I was traveling with on my way to Portugal, and finding nothing of interest in the airport bookshop (why do airport bookshop buyers so unfailingly assume the lowest common denominator of taste on the part of the traveling public?), I appreciated the gesture. I found myself reading the late Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer José Saramago’s memoirs, “Small Memories.” His lean and lucid prose was instantly appealing, as were his charming memories of his boyhood in rural Portugal and Lisbon. This short book was so good, in fact, that I stayed up late into the night so I could finish it before I checked out in the morning.
Similarly, the delightful Lydmar Hotel in Stockholm where I stayed this past summer has a large, comfortable lounge with a variety of interesting books and magazines, and on a rainy afternoon, it was a pleasure to browse the collection and graze through several volumes over tea. Many resort hotels have book corners furnished with books left behind by their guests, and I never miss an opportunity to see what my fellow travelers have been reading, and perhaps borrow or add a volume. There’s a wonderful serendipity on these shelves, too; it was thanks to some anonymous guest that I came across British writer Robert Byron’s brilliant travelogue “The Road to Oxiana” at a Caribbean resort many years ago.
Even though the growing popularity of Kindles and iPads may soon doom these luck-of-the-draw book corners to extinction, I’d much rather find a shelf-load of well-chosen books in a hotel than a room service menu for cats, or a hang-card on its flower-arranging courses. For many busy people, travel offers the rare luxury of time to read, and one of the most wonderful amenities any hotel can offer is an intelligently selected library.