Where the Bookish Bed Down: Accommodation for Bibliophiles
When booking a hotel, everyone has a wish list.
Is there room service? Twenty-four-hour reception? A spa? All valid questions and indeed necessary to know.
However, no matter how fluffy the bathrobe or late the check-out, the one drawcard that never fails to entice the final digit of my CVC is a hotel with books.
The concept isn’t new. I’m sure that most of us have traded tomes from the ‘take-one-leave-one’ shelves of the hostels we once happily traversed.
I fondly remember an unwritten rule of said establishments in the last Luddite glow of the previous century.
At the time, sentimentality was eschewed for mobility. So as not to sacrifice valuable rucksack space assigned to objects that may have sustained life, travellers simply deposited their finished book under the pillow before checkout.
Therein, we formed a rather intimate library with novels still warm from the beds they had been read in.
(Book sharing bookshelf outside hostel in Hong Kong)
Fast forward twenty years, and the tech tsunami, which has enabled a traveller to digitise and carry entire libraries in their pocket, has created a rebound of sorts.
In 2018, the bibliophile’s holy grail is authenticity, and the options are endless.
Would you prefer to sleep in a Hotel Library or a Library Hotel?
The latter seems a fanciful childhood dream, pitter-pattering through wood-panelled aisles with bookish-midnight-abandon.
Gladstone’s Library, the UK’s only residential library, flagrantly appeals to this fantasy with a cheeky entendre.
‘Sleeping with books‘ is an experience tailored to those with bibliophilic tendencies. One has access to the collection after hours and can blatantly sip wine in bed with the book of their choice.
If sleeping in a library doesn’t turn your page, then what about sleeping in a bookstore?
Perhaps the most famed of these is Shakespeare and Company. Burrowed into the left bank and the collective Anglo-American consciousness, it has been the Parisian hub of English-speaking literati since Silvia Beech relocated the store in 1921.
These days it’s an openly known secret that you can sleep there for free.
In what George Whitman called the ‘give what you can, take what you need,’ creed of the Hotel Tumbleweed, both aspiring and established writers can spoon near other scribes catching forty winks.
(Shakespeare and Company in Paris)
You must, of course, contribute to the running of things, but who wouldn’t trade labour for the opportunity to sleep in the place where the Lost Generation went to get lost.
Of course, if to hit the hay where Hemingway hit the absinthe is not your book-bag, then you could upgrade to the top of the book-themed accommodation tree.
Manhattan’s Library Hotel is such a place.
Dedicated to exacting bibliophiles, this hotel would coax the most bespectacled of bookworms above ground. Suppose the evening wine and cheese reception in the Reading Room isn’t enough to entice you. In that case, the complementary E-Reader with your morning bagel is indeed.
However, the dial on the nerd factor is firmly amped up with the revelation that each floor is assigned a theme relevant to the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System.
One can only delight in imagined requests for upgrades from General Knowledge to the loftier heights of Literature with a corner suite.
When the money runs out, you may be tempted to turn to the same technology that brought you the E-Reader on your bedside table.
Innovation has created the most democratised book-themed accommodation of all; Airbnb.
Airbnb allows the bookish traveller to slumber in the houses of those similarly inclined. The exotic world of the personal library is no longer a mysterious bastion occasionally invited to enjoy with an after-dinner mint.
Indeed in 2018, you can sleep in one.
(Books from the personal library of Airbnb host in Paris)
You only need to type ‘Library’ into the website’s search function to understand the true nature of the term ‘rabbit hole.’ Hours can be spent scouring obscure rooms to rent in writer’s libraries, church libraries, island libraries, abandoned libraries and on and on and on.
After falling into such a hole, I found myself retrieved by the incontrovertibly French Madame Marie.
Her Airbnb in colourful Le Marais was not only full of art and antiques; it was full of books. And so I found myself living there one sweltering Parisian summer.
Although in a language foreign to me, Madame Marie’s library was such an entity that it felt like another guest seated at one of the numerous dinner parties that she held along its length.
While residing there, I had been applying for English teaching positions in Hong Kong. Madame Marie suggested I use her library as a backdrop to my Skype interviews. The tomes were all in French, of course, but the library imbued a sense of authority that I’m convinced got me a job.
(Your writer in personal library of Airbnb host)
Such was my joy that July with Madame Marie and her books that I didn’t think a better book-themed accommodation could be found.
You can imagine my delight then when I became a short-term resident of The Helena May several years later.
This stately relic of the colonial past is widely regarded as holding the finest English-language library in Hong Kong.
At night the ladies retire to their high-ceilinged, slow-fanned abodes. Below them, as they slumber lies the most comprehensive collection of Anglo books in the Asian capital.
(The library in the basement of The Helena May in Hong Kong)
If there is such a thing as nerd-nirvana, then this place is it.
Residents can breakfast, then pop down in slippers and robe for a morning withdrawal. The more obsessive can rush for a seat to read with a view of the Peak Tram and not move until closing.
Not that I’ve any idea who would do such a thing.
All of this book-bedding appeals to an entirely natural desire within the readers among us. We must be close to books.
If that means that we choose the accommodation that allows us to snuggle up to their roughly-hewn edges, then kindly avert your eyes and leave us to it.