Is reading better for you than a spa?

From BBC - February 13, 2018

You have heard of yoga retreats and spa retreats, and you have 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 who have chosen to go on holiday with just their books.

Cressida Downing apologises that dinner's five minutes late tonight but they had to wait, she explains, for Annie to finish her chapter.

No one seems to have noticed anyway.

Helen's having an animated conversation with Nynke about the capricious style of Ali Smith and Nanny's reminiscing with Penny about how Madame Bovary changed their young lives. Robbie could not put his book down so he's opted for supper on a tray in his room.

Welcome to the reading retreat where guests pay around 450 for a three-night stay and a guarantee they will be granted the privacy to shut themselves away to read in peace.

'Giving myself permission'

Co-founder Cressida, a freelance editor, said: "The idea came to me because I'd had a difficult year and my husband said, 'why do not you do a spa retreat?'. I thought, well, I could - but my books would get soggy.

"What I really needed was a reading retreat. And I could not find one - and I thought it ca not just be me who wants this!"

So with her business partner, photographer Sara Noel, Cressida tentatively set up the Reading Retreat.

All the retreats take place in cosy seaside or countryside cottages and there's only one rule - the reading room must be kept silent at all times.

Annie, a university complaints officer, is already on her second reading retreat. She laughs when I suggest to her that perhaps she could save some money by simply reading quietly at home.

"This is about giving myself permission to prioritize my reading," she tells me. "If I stayed home, I'd always be thinking that I should be doing other things - seeing friends, writing, cleaning, knitting.

"Here I can sit by a roaring fire for hours and get lost in books."

Cressida has given Annie a tailor-made reading "prescription" but guests can bring any books they like, with everything from zombie fiction to Roman author, Pliny, being enjoyed.

Digital detox

Holidays devoted only to reading appear to be a growing trend in our time-starved world, with several operators offering varying levels of organisation and comfort.

Some retreats use "alone" time for personal reflection as well as reading, some offer glamorous castle settings, while others - like Alain de Botton's Life House in Wales - are in remote locations and deliberately ape monastic life.

But they all share one goal - to stop readers just snatching 20 minutes of reading time on the train home and instead to concentrate their minds on reading at length and for pleasure.

'Better for you than a spa'


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