I love checking into a literary hotel. Recently, my guide was Nicolaia Rips, a seventeen year old who penned the new book, Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel. A lifelong hotel resident, Rips writes about her middle school experiences as an outsider, the daughter of an artist mother and a father who spends most of his time in various New York coffee shops. The cast of characters include residents who become part of Rips’ childhood neighborhood, the flamboyant Storme, the Capitan, Mr. Crafty and Uber Crafty, and an occasional babysitter who always offers her charge champagne. Bohemian barely describes the unusual lifestyle of the family Rips; this is the ultimate in free range parenting. Rips’ voice is precocious and droll. This memoir is a perfect escape.
My favorite book of 2016 also takes place in a hotel, Amor Towles brilliantly creates a sense of place in his novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. The Count who is the gentleman from the title, and a cast of fascinating supporting characters develop subtly through a series of vignettes over the Count’s 30 years of house arrest, during which he is confined to the Metropol Hotel for writing subversive poetry. The growing relationships between the Count and the hotel employees and guests mirrors the transformation of Russia post revolution. The Count is an aristocrat who becomes a waiter in the hotel’s finest restaurant. A young guest who befriends him goes from wanting to hear stories about princesses to becoming a committed worker carrying out Bolshevik ideals. What appears to be a life of confinement is a life that is rich in moments of shared humanity and surprising intimacy. I was sad to check out of the Hotel Metropol.
Other books we’ve blogged about that take place in hotels: