A Complete Guide to Creating Your Own DIY Reading Retreat

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of attending a magical reading retreat at The Twinflower Inn Bed and Breakfast in Bishop Hill, Illinois. All my husband and I had to do was arrive and the hosts took care of everything else. All meals were prepared for us and enjoyed in a cozy dining room. Coffee and tea were available at all times. There were couches to sit on when we got tired of laying in bed or bathing in our in-room jacuzzi. Flowers covered the cozy back porch. We were even able to book an in-room massage! It was perfect.

Needless to say, we signed up for one of their reading retreats the following year when it became available. We were really looking forward to it, but the year was 2020 and, well, it wasn’t supposed to be. It wouldn’t be in 2021 either. So then I decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own DIY reading retreat in the comfort of my home.

While it’s not as luxurious as having all your meals prepared for you, this reading retreat guide will give you a schedule to stick to, foods to eat, and some reading tips for your fun adventures. Let’s start!

How long should your retreat be?

For our Twinflower retreat, we were allowed to arrive at the bed and breakfast after 12 noon on Friday. There were welcome drinks that evening, but the actual reading retreat took place from wake to sleep on Saturday. Sunday morning we were served breakfast and given a few tips on how to get the most out of the utopian town of Bishop Hill. And when I say utopian, I mean it was literally founded as a utopian commune.

A day was great for me. You may want to take a few days off. You may want to set aside five hours for it. It’s up to you – but be realistic. You don’t want to plan three days only to burn out after four hours.

The schedule I give is for a single, full day. If you want to make it longer or shorter, adjust accordingly.

The Importance of a Reading Retreat Schedule

Some people may not need a schedule. They just get up, start reading, and when they finish reading, they stop. Comfortable! That’s definitely what I do when I participate in readathons.

But one thing I really liked about our Bishop Hill retreat was that time was blocked for us. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all served at set times. The massage was scheduled. My husband and I agreed on time for a walk. I found this very helpful because it is much easier to concentrate when I sit for two hours reading than when I know I have all day reading ahead of me.

A reading retreat schedule

I played with a few scheduling options and found that breaking things down into blocks of no more than two hours was most helpful for me. Reading in a variety of formats, including audiobooks, was helpful. I also found it best to schedule book-related non-reading things to give myself a break. This is the schedule that worked best for me.

8–8:30: Breakfast and coffee

8:30–10:30: Reading

10:30–11: Short walk outside while listening to an audiobook

11–1: Read

1-2: Relaxed lunch/phone break

2–4: Read

4–5: Listening to an audiobook while working on a reading puzzle

5–7: Read

7–8: Dinner

8-10: watch a book movie or a movie or TV show based on a book

10: Sleep time!

If you want to go an extra day, follow this format times two. If you don’t want to work on a puzzle, go for a walk, or look at reading books, you can trade them for your own reading activities. You may want:

  • Go to the library
  • Go to your favorite bookstore
  • Take an online class related to reading
  • Write
  • Nap
  • Call a friend and talk about books
  • Do a school craft

Really, anything you want to do – just put it in the schedule and follow the schedule!

Recipes for a reading retreat

When coming up with a meal plan for my own retreat, I thought about what made the food so special at The Twinflower Inn. It was freshly prepared and local, which made it delicious, but what really made it work for the retreat was that it was just ready for me to eat whenever I wanted to eat it. That was my main focus in finding the right recipes: foods that could be prepared almost entirely ahead of time so that the day could be spent reading and adjacent reading.

Breakfast

While I am someone who loves a breakfast dripping with butter and syrup, I also know that a breakfast dripping with butter and syrup will probably send me to a snooze city. I looked for recipes that would be decadent and delicious, but not so heavy that they would knock me out.

This frozen yogurt bark feels weird in the mouth, but it’s delicious and a great breakfast treat that won’t leave the eyes hanging.

Overnight oats are always tasty, in my book, and can be customized to everyone’s taste. My favorite combination is oats, chia seeds, a little bit of peanut butter, oat milk, strawberry, banana and a dash of maple syrup. Delicious and ready to be eaten when I wake up. To score!

If you like to start your day with eggs, these breakfast muffins are a great choice.

If you’d rather not cook, grab some croissants from your local bakery, put out a small tray of jam and butter the night before, and enjoy a simple, deluxe breakfast.

Lunch

I love a make-ahead chicken salad, egg salad, or vegan tuna salad. Personally, I prefer the vegan tuna salad, which in my opinion is an A+ recipe, whether you like meat or not. Add some fruit or a side of yogurt and you have my go-to, stay-awake lunch.

If you really want to be pampered, order your favorite take-out the day before and have it delivered on the reading day. Then try to forget that you ordered and SURPRISE! You get a nice lunch.

Supper

If you have a slow cooker, you can prepare something the night before the retreat, throw it in the fridge, and put it in the slow cooker the morning of the retreat. By the time dinner comes, you’ll have a delicious stew, casserole, or, my favorite, tomatillo taco fixings.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, pasta is a good choice to make ahead and reheat on the day of the retreat. It can be a little heavy and sleep-inducing, but if you’ll notice it on the schedule, all you’ll do after dinner is lay down for a legible look. I love this Pasta e Ceci (pasta with chickpeas), but really, you can cook all the noodles and grab a can of your favorite pasta sauce and you’ll be fine. Just don’t commit any of these pasta crimes.

dessert

Yes, we need dessert – these are happy times to read books! Lately I’ve been loving this vintage warm milk cake recipe, which is extremely easy. You could make your favorite cookies (my all-time favorite is Alton Brown’s chewy recipe) or, if you’re picking up those pastries for breakfast, grab a few for dessert too.

Snacks

Here we have to get serious. I like to have a lot of snacks on hand because I never know what I’m craving. But again, I’m always thinking about what will help me keep my energy up and start cutting logs. Some of the snacks I like to have on hand include:

  • String cheese
  • nuts
  • Fruit
  • Yogurt
  • M&Ms and other small candies (sometimes I play a game where I get to pop a candy every time I turn a page)
  • Hummus and salsa with fries
  • popcorn
  • crackers

You get the idea, right – you’ve heard of snacks? Yes, get some!

What to read during a reading retreat

Now that we’ve got your schedule and your food settled, it’s time to get to the most important part: what to read!

I have followed many different plans for this and they all have their pros and cons. For example I would:

  • Clean up my TBR by reading books I own
  • Get some books from the library
  • Use the time to finish a super long book that I was afraid to try
  • Read a lot of shorter books
  • Browse four or five books per chapter

The great thing is that you don’t necessarily have to pick one option and stick to it. Grab some library books to have on hand, but also have a stack of your own TBR ready. Keep large and small books on deck.

The key to the perfect reading retreat is having lots of plans and lots of options. Now go on to read, and as a good friend of mine used to say, “Have fun!”

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