By Terry Trucco
It’s no fluke that libraries are the go-to amenity at smart hotels. Books and travel go together like gin and tonic, airplanes and airports, pillows and pillowcases.
70 Park Avenue, a stylish hotel in a 1920s building south of Grand Central Station, is New York’s latest hotel to go literary but with a twist. Late last month the hotel teamed with the Atria Publishing Group, a division of Simon and Schuster known for best-selling authors like Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner and Brad Thor. But don’t expect a shelf-lined room piled to the rafters.
Each month “Reads on the Road” offers guests three new books to download to a personal laptop, tablet or smart phone free of charge. The books evaporate at check out, but guests eager to learn what happens next have the option of buying the books before they depart. Those who prefer to curl up with paper pages can peruse conventional copies of the featured volumes.
Last week the hotel launched its literary lights the natural way, with a book signing
attended by the authors of two of the program’s three inaugural titles. With a seasonal nod to autumn, and Halloween, the three books boast an air of mystery.
Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black, set in Victorian England, is equal parts ghost story and psychological thriller. The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn, a pen name for crime thriller author Peter Abrahams, is a detective yarn told from the viewpoint of a dog who happens to be the faithful and preternaturally observant companion of an Arizona sleuth. And Jamie McGuire’s Red Hill is a love story set against an apocalyptic backdrop.
The idea originated at Atria, where the popularity of hotel libraries has not gone unnoticed. Partnering with a hotel seemed an ideal way to introduce authors to new audiences. But which hotel?
Enter the San Francisco-based Kimpton Group whose four New York City properties boast such book-friendly amenities as a nightly wine party. 70 Park Avenue, with just 205 rooms and the technical heft to download multiple novels to multiple guests, got the nod. A bonus was the hotel’s plush sitting room that evokes the personal library of a fantasy Park Avenue bibliophile with a fondness for whimsical mirrors and a lack of bookshelves (e-books to the rescue).
The book signing felt like a cocktail party, as hotel guests sipping white or red from stemmed wine glasses chatted with the authors and a phalanx of Atria publicists. Setterfield was in town from her Oxford, England home on the first stop of a national book tour. Her first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, an elegant gothic yarn rich in ghosts and secrets, shot to the top of The New York Times bestseller list in 2006 (a television movie starring Vanessa Redgrave will be broadcast in Britain this December).
Ghosts hover about Bellman & Black, her much-anticipated follow-up novel, but not in an overt way. “Anything too extremely fantastical doesn’t engage me personally,” Setterfield says in her soft English accent.
A professor of turn-of-the-century French literature, she describes herself as “a reader first,” an aficionado of “proper storytelling,” the kind that results in compulsive page turning (or scrolling). At 14 she discovered the mystery novels of Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Charles Dickens credited with creating literature’s first police detective in The Moonstone. “His novels blew me away. I like when the life in a book seems more real than your own.”
Abrahams, in town from his home on Cape Cod, says he loved reading mysteries and
adventure stories like Treasure Island from a young age. At 12 he knew he wanted to tell tales of his own, a vocation encouraged by his mother, a writer herself. From her he learned “the power of verbs” and to “bend every note,” digging deep to amplify the story.
Those skills, along with a love of Nabokov, Graham Greene and Ross Macdonald, have informed his numerous high-octane suspense thrillers including Reality Check, winner of he 2010 Edgar Award, and The Fan, a tale of a crazed baseball fanatic made into a movie with Robert DeNiro in 1996.
The Sound and the Furry is his sixth Chet and Bernie mystery, an upbeat mash-up of the detective novel and buddy story relayed from Chet the Dog’s point of view. A long-time dog-lover – he’s pictured with his dogs Pearl and Audrey on the book jacket – Abrahams started the series after his wife suggested he “do something with a dog” in his writing. “Chet’s an unreliable narrator which contrasts with the logical nature of the detective mystery,” he said. (The unreliable narrator manages his own website www.chetthedog.com.)
Not surprisingly, both writers think offering hotel guests e-novels is a splendid idea. With their noise, movement and colors, movies can be more stimulating than relaxing in a hotel room at the end of a long day, says Setterfield. “If you’re a reader there’s something soothing about black letters against a white background and the pictures you create in your mind.”
Adds Abrahams, “The written story is not going away.”
70 Park Avenue Hotel, 70 Park Avenue at East 38th Street; 212 973-2400.