Your Room Is Booked

In a DVD Age, Lit­er­ary Ho­tels Go Back to the Clas­sics

The Washington Post Sunday - - Travel - By Carol McCabe

I should have called ahead. By the time I checked in, Jour­nal­ism was gone, as was Ge­og­ra­phy and Travel. The choice was down to Ger­manic Lan­guages or Phi­los­o­phy. That’s how I came to spend a re­cent night in Room 1100.003, in the com­pany of Messrs. Kant, Hegel, Voltaire and Sartre, with Ge­orge Soros ly­ing on the night­stand.

At Man­hat­tan’s ur­bane Li­brary Ho­tel at Madi­son Av­enue and 41st Street, guest floors and rooms are keyed to clas­si­fi­ca­tions of the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem, de­vised by Melvil Dewey in 1876 and familiar to any­one who has bor­rowed a li­brary book since then. The room you get de­ter­mines the sub­ject of the read­ing ma­te­rial on built- in shelves. My 75 vol­umes in­cluded Kierkegaard’s “ The Con­cept of Anx­i­ety” and Aris­to­tle’s “ On Com­ing- to- Be and Pass­ing Away” — in Greek.

Once upon a time ( Fairy Tales Room 800.005), lots of ho­tels in­cluded books and cozy read­ing rooms among their ameni­ties. To­day’s har­ried trav­el­ers are more likely to be of­fered fit­ness cen­ters, pools, saunas, shop­ping ar­cades and scooter rentals. Any­thing de­scribed as a li­brary is prob­a­bly a col­lec­tion of DVDs or CDs.

But book lovers can still find lit­er­ary lodg­ings thriv­ing across Amer­ica, as a list of some of our fa­vorites ( see Page P4) proves. Think of it not as a trend, but as a counter- trend.

Nowhere is more shelf space de­voted to good read­ing than at the el­e­gant, six- year- old Li­brary Ho­tel, a block from the New York Pub­lic Li­brary on a sec­tion of 41st Street la­beled “ Li­brary Way.” With its col­lec­tion of 6,000 vol­umes ( bought used from the leg­endary Strand Book Store), the ho­tel has been en­thu­si­as­ti­cally wel­comed by read­ers, writ­ers, artists and li­brar­i­ans ( Li-

braries Room 1000.001). From the hefty art books shelved in ma­hogany in the sleek lobby to the del­i­cate vol­umes of verse in the Po­etry Gar­den on the 14thfloor in­door ter­race, the place is a bib­lio­phile’s dream.

Not all guests are in­tel­lec­tu­als long­ing to re­lax with, say, a juicy vol­ume by Lud­wig Wittgen­stein.

Ac­cord­ing to man­age­ment, the most re­quested room is 800.001, Erotic Lit­er­a­ture. “ Yes, the books in that room would in­clude the Kama Su­tra,” con­firms Yogini Pa­tel, the ho­tel’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor and hon­orary li­brar­ian. On the other hand, some guests, such as those on moth­er­daugh­ter week­ends, specif­i­cally ask not to be booked into Room 800.001.

Run­ning a close sec­ond to Erotic Lit is Love ( 1100.006), whose in- room li­brary in­cludes “ The Art of Arousal” by Dr. Ruth Wes­theimer. Dr. Ruth is listed as “ cu­ra­tor” of Love, which means she gets to choose the books. But Pa­tel says that fac­tors other than an in­ter­est in the amorous arts may ac­count for the room’s pop­u­lar­ity: “ It’s the only room with its own ter­race.”

The ho­tel’s least- re­quested room is the Para­nor­mal ( 1100.005). “ Some peo­ple as­so­ci­ate it with spook­i­ness,” Pa­tel says, “ but oth­ers love it.”

It’s not un­usual for ho­tels to re­ceive re­quests for spe­cific rooms: an­niver­sary cou­ples seek­ing their old hon­ey­moon room or dis­abled guests look­ing for bath­rooms with grab bars. But at the Li­brary Ho­tel, “ lots of peo­ple like to get in­volved with the book­ing process,” Pa­tel says. “ We can’t al­ways guar­an­tee their choices, but we try.”

Li­brar­ian guests might no­tice that the ho­tel’s clas­si­fi­ca­tions veer a bit from Dewey’s. “ We tweak the col­lec­tion to­ward our clien­tele,” Pa­tel con­cedes. “ We’re sur­rounded by ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies, so we get a lot of cor­po­rate busi­ness.” For them, the Tech­nol­ogy floor’s room choices in­clude Ad­ver­tis­ing, Man­age­ment and Com­put­ers.

Post check- in, I dropped by the sec­ond­floor Read­ing Room, a large open area with a wall of win­dows, a pi­ano and lots of com­fort­able ta­bles and chairs. Here, com­pli­men­tary wine and cheese are set out for guests each af­ter­noon, and an am­ple con­ti­nen­tal break­fast is of­fered in the morn­ing.

None of the six or seven oth­ers in the Read­ing Room was read­ing any­thing other than a lap­top or cell­phone screen. Two phone users were bray­ing at a level that would have sent an old- fash­ioned li­brar­ian into hor­ri­fied shush mode. The stereo­typ­i­cal Mar­ian might also raise a po­lite eye­brow at the books shelved in no or­der what­so­ever in the room’s large book­cases: Tom Clancy keep­ing com­pany with Thomas Pyn­chon, Jesse Ven­tura cud­dled up to “ The Wizard of Oz.”

For me, the serendip­i­tous pos­si­bil­i­ties out­weighed any com­pul­sion for or­der. I hugged a dis­cov­ered copy of Jonathan Ra­ban’s “ Hunt­ing Mis­ter Heart­break,” the only one of his travel books and nov­els that I haven’t read. I over­poured a glass of white wine and sank into Ra­ban’s up­date of the 1782 voy­age to Amer­ica by Hec­tor St. John de Creve­coeur, or “ heart­break” in French. With Ra­ban, I left Liver­pool in a ship “ like a gi­ant Ital­ian bread­stick.”

By the time my glass was empty, we were all in New York. It was time to put Ra­ban back into his space and re­turn to Phi­los­o­phy. I hoped that, like me, Mr. Ra­ban and Mis­ter Heart­break had some­thing good to read while they were in town. Dou­ble rooms at the Li­brary Ho­tel ( 299 Madi­son Ave. at 41st Street, 212- 983- 4500, www. li­brary­ho­tel. com) gen­er­ally start at $ 249 in July and Au­gust, and $ 349 other times of the year. Stays in­clude a con­ti­nen­tal break­fast buf­fet and af­ter­noon wine and cheese. In- room fa­cil­i­ties in­clude mini­bars, DVD player and com­pli­men­tary high- speed and wire­less In­ter­net ac­cess. The ho­tel of­fers passes to a nearby fit­ness cen­ter and has a busi­ness cen­ter. The ho­tel con­nects to a restau­rant called Branzini, but based on my one over­priced, over­cooked meal there, I’d rec­om­mend step­ping out­side.

LI­BRARY HO­TEL

New York’s Li­brary Ho­tel fea­tures all books, all the time.

LI­BRARY HO­TEL

The ho­tel has sev­eral cozy spots to share with Kierkegaard or Clancy.

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