Discover more from Your Reading Life
Quod est a Reading Retreat anyways?
“OK, what actually is a reading retreat. You said you went on one. What does that look like? What does that even mean? Going off somewhere for a weekend to read and only read sounds… well, kinda boring. Why would I even want to do that? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like to read. But I just don’t know about a whole reading-focused retreat. I don’t care how much wisdom I’m going to cultivate to save humanity as a species.”
Fair. Fair. I must say, your questions are fair. Here’s my story. My reading retreat story.
I’ve done this three times now. Read and then digested on the retreat, first, The World After Capital, then, Middlemarch, (which I later then dialogued about with some friends recounted here), and then The Precipice most recently. The first one I did was in Old Town Tacoma, Washington where I rented an Airbnb and hung out around the town. The last two have been while I had CoVid and while I was dogsitting at my family’s house in Park City, Utah. Each time I do it if feels like I get to go back to school, but just for the weekend.
I’m not sure why I started calling them “reading retreats”. That’s not really what they are. They are retreats. I don’t just read on them. I haven’t been on many retreats to be honest. Two startuppy company/team retreats. And I’ve helped a friend organize a handful of others in and around NYC. Both kinds were very different but what they had in common was that they were a mix of what I’ll call “programming” and fun. I try to hold to the same underlying structure on my solo reading retreats.
Getting into the nitty gritty this is what I’ve been doing. Keep in mind, these versions/experiments have been solo versions of this. Where I mostly rely on writing, if I were to do this with others, I’d sprinkle in much more dialogue and a lot less writing.
4p - 6p
What drew me to this
Place I’m retreating
Book I’m digesting
Author I’m in communication with and wanting to more deeply understand what they’re communicating
What do I want to get out of this retreat?
What, if anything, do I want to produce?
For me this has been content like a Twitter thread and/or a blog post.
6p - 8p
Find food either wherever I’m staying or out around town. Explore a little bit.
During dinner most of the time I spend the solo time chatting with randos or rereading the book and taking copious notes related to what I want to produce or get out of the weekend.
8p - 10p
Something fun. Bar. Walk. Movie. R&R. Whatever floats.
8a - 9a
Maybe more reading and note-taking depending on mood.
9a - 12p
This is the meat on the bones of the retreat. This timeslot is when I’m writing out my responses to journal prompts I’ve drafted based on my intentions or writing a rough draft of the Twitter thread or blog post with notes and references. As you’ll see, even though this is early on and approaching about halfway through the retreat, there’s not a lot of time left to really be productive in my digesting and writing and responding to prompts.
12p - 1p
Lunch. In or out. If I’m in a new place I’m out exploring. Actually, if I’m anywhere, I end up in this mode.
I also, like previous meals, since I’m eating alone, tend to reread and note-take while waiting and eating.
1p - 4p
Some sort of fun activity or something that moves your body. Things I’ve done so far are
A long run along the Puget Sound from Old Town Tacoma (I saw seals!).
A hike with my parents’ dog up to a lovely lake I used to visit in high school and then a beer tasting at a local pub on Main Street.
Other ideas or hankerings I’ve had are wine/whiskey tastings.
Skiing. Cross country and/or alpine if you’re lucky.
4p - 6p
This is a buffer timeslot. Depending on what you do for your Saturday mid-day activity you might need this time to recover, clean yourself up, travel to and fro.
If not, then this precious time to read and note-take and/or work toward goals you intended towards Friday afternoon.
6p - 8p
This is time for a nicer, longer, chiller dinner. Maybe, given how much time you have, one you make yourself. In my most recent case, I walked down to a lift and rode it up to a nearby ski resort and ate and hung out around the base of the mountain. Fun times and most definitely unique to the special location I got to retreat in.
8p - 10p
Optional time here to dig back into the reading and writing and working on your intention or to rest and relax. Recently I watched a movie. I’ve also just spent time in the bar or restaurant I was eating in and kept taking notes. I often prefer that energy. Not very retreaty I know. When I had covid and was more retreaty I stayed in and meditated and slept. To each their own.
8a - 9a
Crazy, but it’s the last day! Eat some breakfast.
9a - 11a
It’s wrap up time. Time to look back on your intentions. How did you fare? Did you create what you wanted to create? Do you better understand the written work and what the author was trying to communicate to you through your journal prompts? Were you able to dive deeper than if you’d just put the book back on your shelf after finishing it? Would you do it again or was it a complete waste of time? Would you recommend it to a friend? Why?
11a - 12p
Time to clean up and leave depending on where you’re retreating.
Also time to think if you didn’t finish something, when and how and who might help you to finish the something? In my case I committed to completing the blog post and the Twitter thread within a week of finishing the retreat using my prompts and notes.
Now that you can see what I did, you might be asking yourself, why? What did I get out of it? What might you get out of it? Also, you didn’t do that much reading. And also, you were out and about a lot. Doesn’t sound much like a retreat to me!
I concur. This whole learning experience, as I’ve designed it, it might be misnamed. Regardless of how it’s named, I do get to deep dive. I get to review. I get to take notes. I get to digest. I get to teach others about the book, the author, my unique takeaways. Articulate how the book fits in my life and why I read it and what I think will stay with me about it over time and what I hope others take away from the work. I also have fun. I don’t just sit in a reading chair and read for 48 hours. I get out. I have fun. I enjoy what the surroundings have to offer. As I start to experiment with group versions incorporating dialogue I think it’ll be even more fun and even more illuminating. Group versions will feel even more like I’m getting to go back to school for the weekend. Can’t wait to start experimenting.