A little light read­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

A lovely hote­lier at a din­ner soiree strug­gles to make him­self heard above the res­tau­rant’s Ara­bian mu­sic. It’s the sort of ex­otic sound­track that makes you want to ro­tate your hips and my travel com­pan­ions and I are hum­ming mer­rily and not lis­ten­ing to him prop­erly.

Which is why we are plunged into one of those small in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dents that leave mud all over your face, or a rather yummy hum­mus in this case. He says he’s plan­ning a ca­reer change. He pauses for dra­matic ef­fect be­fore re­veal­ing he wants to open a book ex­change. We turn to each other with star­tled looks. Re­ally? What­ever is his busi­ness model, we won­der. It soon tran­spires he has said he wants to open a bou­tique chain. Of ho­tels, that is, and not sec­ond-hand pa­per­back stores. Oh, yes, that’s more like it, and we smile en­cour­ag­ingly.

Later I re­flect on the silly mis­un­der­stand­ing and de­cide the world could well have enough bou­tique ho­tels but, as for places where you can swap books? There could never be too many of those. I have no­ticed in re­cent trav­els that more ho­tels, B&Bs and lodges have books on gue­stroom shelves and be­side the bed. Maybe the own­ers or man­agers have just been de­clut­ter­ing their col­lec­tions, or past guests are shed­ding books, but there’s rarely a more wel­come sight than a vol­ume to be swapped or even just taken if per­mis­sion is forth­com­ing.

In many streets in Syd­ney’s in­ner east, and no doubt precincts fur­ther afield, res­i­dents are putting out boxes of un­wanted books, some of which are nicely dis­played in cab­i­nets af­fixed to front fences. Last year, the City of Syd­ney launched a project dubbed Street Li­braries whereby re­cy­clable cov­ered wooden boxes were pro­vided to house­hold­ers in­ter­ested in fill­ing them with books. I’ve seen these on lacy ter­race house fences and out­side schools and com­mu­nity cen­tres. On the Street Li­brary web­site, there are so­phis­ti­cated ver­sions for sale, in­clud­ing The Shed. It sounds like some­thing from Bun­nings, with its “nickel-plated steel fix­ings; 3mm tough per­spex door win­dow; high qual­ity marine grade ply­wood with wa­ter­proof glue for ex­tra dura­bil­ity and longer life; and a large door that al­lows many book sizes”. The fact it is weath­er­proof is of great im­por­tance. Who wants a damp Du Mau­rier, a soggy Say­ers or in­deed any pulpy fic­tion.

All of which brings me to that eter­nal bug­bear of in­suf­fi­cient gue­stroom light­ing. Many hote­liers must imag­ine ev­ery­one is read­ing an iPad or a Kin­dle and that back­lit screens pro­vide enough light. But many trav­ellers, such as those of us who love the tac­tile feel of a proper book, are not ly­ing down without a fight. So there I will be with my iPhone app held at a tir­ing an­gle over a book, pil­lows propped up like a raft.

I have a friend who trav­els with a miner’s torch he straps to his fore­head, even on planes. I wish I were that brave. Mean­time, the night af­ter our lovely hote­lier talks of his bou­tique vi­sions, I can’t turn off the light on the bed­head. There is no log­i­cal switch, the fit­ting re­fuses to swiz­zle, I hang a shawl over the bulb but de­cide it could catch fire. I sleep with my head under the pil­low, air­line eye mask askew. Next morn­ing I watch the room at­ten­dant snap off the lamp quick-smart at a se­cret lo­ca­tion be­hind the bed­head. Ho­tel: 1. Su­san: 0. It has been ever thus.

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