Reading Getaways

I wonder how many books per annum people who do these sorts of things read. I say this because I sort of look at vacations as, in part, vacations from reading. (Not totally, obviously, there’s still the plane and downtime wherever you are, but I tend to log plenty of hours of reading per day and don’t necessarily need vacations as opportunities to read even more.)

Too many books would make this something of a busman’s holiday for a reviewer, but I’ve packed a big stack all the same. Vacations, with their seclusion, quiet and idleness, invite long bouts of reading. Or, rather, they do when they don’t involve visiting a big city, staying with chatty relatives or herding kids. All too often, the books treasured up for the summer are still unread on Labor Day.

So why not plan a vacation devoted exclusively to reading? Twice annually, Bill Gates schedules a week-long “reading retreat” during which he does nothing but pore over the books and papers he’s set aside during the year. He’s not alone: The idea seems particularly popular in the UK, where you can sign up at London’s School of Life to receive a customized book list (they have “bibliotherapists” on staff to compile one based on a telephone consultation) and lodging in one of several modern country houses. The website promises “the perfect combination of great books and great architecture.”

Those who prefer a more social experience can enroll in book-club-style retreats in which an assortment of guests all read the same book during the day and discuss it over the evening meal. Deb Snow, an English teacher currently running a guest house in rural Bulgaria, hosts a reading week with a pre-set list of books and meals provided. Reading Retreats in Rural Italy has a grander setting — the 14th-century Castello di Galeazza in Emilia-Romagna — but the terms are more informal and spartan. Clark Lawrence, who has been running these retreats for 15 years, explains, “Staying here is very similar to staying at a friend’s house. People have to share the two bathrooms. We cook meals and eat together.”

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