A little light reading
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.