International Book-Think at Hotel Carlton: Read for World Peace

On my recent trip to San Francisco I stayed at the Hotel Carlton and met a wonderful young man behind the desk the first night of my visit. Theo McKinney has agreed to be my guest on Riehlife. We’re starting by discussing the books on the coffee tables in the hotel lobby and will continue on other topics and more images in days to come. What I loved about the books is that they felt as if they could easily have been in a good friends’ living room. They felt as if they were really there to be read and enjoyed, not just there because they fit the decor or image. When you read Theo’s response to my question about the books, it becomes clear why they feel so genuine—they come from his sense of selection and placement within the thematic context of the Carlton’s mission of “Peace through Travel.” —JGR

Books in lobby Hotel Carlton

Riehlife: I was so impressed by the books on the coffee tables in the lobby because they felt integral to the feeling of the HC and truly interesting. I even copied down the titles.

Theo: Thank you very much for noticing them, as the selection and placement of the lobby books have always fallen into my sole jurisdiction. The original books that had been selected by the design team did indeed set an interesting decorative theme: they had chosen picture books about different countries and cultures.

Then, as the books they’d chosen started to “walk off” (as really good books in a public space should be expected to do, unfortunately), it fell into my hands as the experience manager to replace them. No worries there, though: I always have—and always will— love going to a good bookstore with someone else’s money, so this is the opposite of a problem for me.

However, with the hotel’s intentionally global theme, I was always challenged by the fact that if I selected a book about one country over another, as the designers did, some country or culture ended up getting left out which, being the softie I am, left me feeling curiously conflicted about what to replace the book that “walked.”

The Globally Aware answer to this mounting (or should I say “walking”) book dilemma? I decided to choose books covering the kinds of subjects that all cultures share an interest in such as”The Secret Language of Birthdays” and the book on palm reading. Everyone on the planet has a birthday. Everyone on the planet who has a hand has got a palm and has heard there was some age-old lore about reading the lines on them.

As for some of the other subjects, I had always been concerned how we had several Buddha heads in the lobby, and as you pointed out, “God-figure prints” in the rooms as decoration. Though no Asian Buddhist visitor had ever said anything about it, I was strongly aware that these “decorative touches” could be perceived as “us unthinking Californian westerners being at it again” having taken the significance of these sacredly held religious items “for granted”.

[To counterbalance this] I continue to keep contrasting these images with an assortment of Mythology books; books such as the one about Feng Shui, and others like “The Origin of Names” book. I guess it’s my personal ongoing attempt to better universalize the overall contextual perspective of these esoteric objects. I also hope people ponder their own relationship to all of the world’s esoteric possibilities, giving it all “equal billing”, as it were.

The remainder of the books were chosen to:

1. Highlight some of the lesser known cultures that the designers didn’t get to incorporate into the global design but felt missing, like the books on Native American and Australian Aborginal Arts;

2. “worldwide appreciation books” covering world-famous images like Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Airplanes of the World, World History of Cars, Ships of the World, recipes of the world and so on.

I love watching people react to this more shared world approach of our book selection, so I actually do try to keep many of the subjects similarly “world-share-able”. In the beginning, people only sort of thumbed through those original books to glance at pictures.

Now they find themselves happy to sit and read about things that everyone in the world can share an interest in (and many people from varying countries have often ask for Xeroxed pages out of “The Birthday Book”…which, by the way, is exactly what I had hoped they’d want to do with it).

Interesting note: Quite a few of our older international male visitors have sheepishly asked to take that Motorcycle book upstairs to read in their room: the twinkle I had seen in one German guest’s eye who asked to do this, was strikingly similar to that of one like-aged English gentleman who asked the same favor.

In a roundabout way, “Harley-Davidson promotes world peace”: the next night, over wine, these strangers were sharing their dreams about having the wind-in-the-hair someday, riding down Highway One. Same dream. Global origin. And exactly what I always liked about what has become The Hotel Carlton’s on-going relationship with its overall theme. I feel really happy this came through to you.

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