You’ve heard of yoga retreats and spa retreats, and you’ve probably heard of creative writing or painting retreats but could the next big thing in relaxation be a reading retreat?
I went to Thorpeness in Suffolk to join a group of people that we have chosen to go on a holiday alone with their books.
Cressida Downing apology that dinner is five minutes late this evening, but had to wait, she explains, by Annie to finish the chapter.
No one seems to have noticed anyway.
Helen is having an animated conversation with Nynke on the whimsical style of Ali Smith and the nano reminiscing with Penny about how Madame Bovary changed their young lives. Robbie could not put his book so we opted for the dinner on a tray in your room.
Welcome to the reading retreat where guests pay around £450 for a three-night stay and a guarantee that we will be granted the privacy is close distance to read in peace.’Gives Me permission’
Co-founder of Cressida, a freelance editor, said: “The idea came to me, because I had a difficult year and my husband said, ‘why not make a spa?’. I thought, well, I could – but my books get soaked.
“What I really needed was a reading retreat. And I could not find – and I thought that that can’t be me who wants it!”
So with his business partner, the photographer Sara Noel, Cressida tentatively to the Shelter of Reading.
All retreats take place in the cosy beach or in the countryside huts and there is only one rule – the reading room must be kept silent at all times.
Annie, a university complaint officer, is already in its second reading retreat. She laughs when I suggest that maybe she could save some money by simply reading quietly at home.
“This is about giving myself permission to prioritize my reading,” he tells me. “If I stayed at home, that I would always be thinking I should be doing other things – seeing friends, writing, cleaning, knitting.
“Here I can sit by a crackling fire for hours and get lost in books.”
Cressida has given Annie a measure of the reading of “recipe”, but guests can bring all the books that I like, with everything from the fictional zombie of Roman author, Pliny, to be enjoyed. Digital detox
Festivals dedicated only to the reading appears to be a growing trend in our time-starved world, with several operators offering different levels of organization and comfort.
Some retreats use “only” a time for personal reflection, as well as reading, some offer glamour castle setup, while others – such as Alain de Botton the Life House in Wales – are in remote locations and deliberately ape the monastic life.
But they all share a common aim – to stop readers just to snatch 20 minutes of reading time on the train back home and instead of concentrating his mind in reading at length and for pleasure.
Helen, a psychotherapist and a big fan of Agatha Christie, has spent the better part of the day in pyjama bottoms, hugged a hot water bottle and only occasionally looking up from the pages of his book.
She imagined that I had only read in your bedroom, but have been delighted to read in silence with the others in the communal reading room.
“It’s a weekend of getting completely spoiled,” she laughs. “I don’t want to do this in a hotel, though – I think that I am alone. Here I fenced in a quiet reading time, but I still have good company at the dinner and recommendations of other readers.”
A 2014 government survey suggested that 41% of 25 to 39 years said they were reading for pleasure less than ever before, and that almost a quarter of all adults in the uk had not read a single book for pleasure in the previous year.
Leading British authors like Susan Hill, and Howard Jacobson have recently warned that our digital addiction is ruining our concentration and our ability to read in length.
In the Shelter of Read, phones and tablets are not banned, but Cressida and Sara offer to confiscate on arrival to encourage a digital detox. A fresh air break it is also advisable to avoid the guests cross eyes. ‘Better than spa’
Robbie’s wife bought for him on his retirement as a Christmas gift and it has come loaded with the stack of books on your bedside table always meant to read.
“I’m Cormac McCarthy, Ray Bradbury, a book of essays of Montaigne,” he says.
“But at home it feels self-indulgent and selfish to shut myself away from my family to read. Here, in another psychological support because I am paying for it… and you do not have to observe the subtleties of social here.”
In fact, you can even read it at the table.
“Why not?”, shrugs Cressida. “The point is that you’re not here with friends or work colleagues that you never have to say, ‘I’m sorry, but do you mind if I read?’. You have permission to read all the time.”
At the dinner table, the conversation stops briefly as the readers reflect on which of the five puddings on offer tonight they feel like it. Annie outstanding before time to finish his book on bees in the reading room, and Helen and Sarah are arguing over which was the best novel of Agatha Christie.
Cressida rolls up her sleeves to start washing.
“Reading is not a passive thing,” she says. “The reading is about participation and connection. And reading – as scientists have discovered wonderful things for your brain and longevity and health, so really, we’re probably better than a spa.”
The next morning, I’m the only one down for breakfast early. Everyone already has their nose in a book.
Hey Emma Jane Kirby’s full report on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.