If you were going to try to bring as many random strangers happiness with a single book, what would that book be?
England's Damson Dene Hotel replaced all of its in-room Bibles with Fifty Shades of Grey, in what seems to be a very publicity-generating move last week. Instead of spiritual comfort of the Judaeo-Christian sort, guests now are left to bondage romance to fill those empty moments of the wee hours when they've brought no reading of their own. And whatever one thinks of Damson Dene's choice, the fact that they made a choice raises an interesting question: What book would you put in every room of a hotel you were running?
This being a Sherlock Holmes blog, my answer has to be The Complete Sherlock Holmes, despite an initial impulse to go with The Princess Bride. Why Holmes? Well, in addition to being a classic crowd-pleaser, his resume has hotel experience.
In the 1930s, the largest hotel in midtown Manhattan, the Hotel Taft actually published books especially for their guests. They printed their own edition of A Study in Scarlet and a collection called Sherlock Holmes Detective Stories, each with art of the Taft Hotel on the cover and "Compliments of the Hotel Taft, New York" in the lower right corner. Inside the cover was a simulated bookplate with a "This book belongs to" line under which the guest could write his or her name and make it their own.
While "Tarry at the Taft" publishing also put out some other authors than Doyle, like Poe, Wilde, Carroll, and Balzac, it wasn't until decades after I saw my first Taft edition that I ever heard of that lot, or even considered that they might exist. After all, why wouldn't a New York hotel in the 1930s want to feature Sherlock Holmes?
So the idea of placing a nice edition of the Sherlock Holmes canon in every room of a nice hotel just seems like a natural . . . much moreso than Fifty Shades of Grey. Eighty years from now, do you think those hotel copies will be cherished in the hands of collectors? I think not.
Postscript: In reacquainting myself with the Taft editions, I got to pull out Ron DeWaal's The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and Don Redmond's Sherlock Holmes Among the Pirates, two reminders of great days past. It had been a while, and it was nice to spend a little time with books that felt like old friends.