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A Complete Guide to Creating Your Own DIY Reading Retreat

Tracy Shapley Towley

Staff Writer

Tracy is a freelance copywriter, all-around ne’er do well, very-adult graduate of the University of Iowa, and occasional waterer of plants. Her hobbies include writing fiction, reading fiction, mixing together various flavors of soup, and typing letters to her friends on an old red typewriter that doesn't have a working period so all sentences must end in questions marks or exclamation points? She has read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and has a lot of thoughts on them. Her old Iowa farmhouse is shared by her husband Sean, a pair of cats, a pair of dogs, and the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut.

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 area. Coffee and tea were available at all times. There were couches to sit on when we grew tired of lying in bed or soaking in our in-room jacuzzi tub. Flowers covered the cozy back porch. We were even able to book an in-room massage! It was perfect.

Twinflower Inn Reading Retreat

Obviously, the following year we signed up for one of their reading retreats the moment it was available. We were very much looking forward to it but, the year was 2020 and, well, it was not to be. Nor was it to be in 2021. So that’s when I decided to take things into my own hands and create my own DIY reading retreat in the comfort of my home.

Though it isn’t quite 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-times adventure. Let’s get started!

How Long Should Your Retreat Be?

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

For me, one day was great. You might want to take a few days. You might want to take five hours. It’s up to you — but do be realistic. You don’t want to plan for three days only to burn out after four hours.

The schedule I provide will be 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 might not need a schedule. They just get up, start reading, and then when they’re done reading, they stop. Easy peasy! That’s certainly what I do when I take part in readathons.

But one thing I really enjoyed about our Bishop Hill retreat was having time blocked off for us. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all served at specific times. The massage was scheduled. My husband and I scheduled in time for a walk. I found this really helpful because it’s much easier to focus when I’m sitting down to read for two hours than when I know I have the whole day of reading ahead of me.

A Reading Retreat Schedule

I have played around with a few scheduling options and I found that breaking things up into no longer than two-hour blocks was most helpful for me. Reading in several formats, including audiobooks, was useful. I also found it best to have book-related non-reading things planned 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: Reading

1–2: Leisurely lunch/phone break

2–4: Reading

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

5–7: Reading

7–8: Dinner

8–10: Watch a bookish movie, or a movie or TV show based on a book

10: Sleeping time!

If you want to go an extra day, just follow this format times two. If you don’t want to work on a puzzle, go for a walk, or watch bookish media, you can swap them out for your own bookish activity. Maybe you want to:

  • 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 bookish craft

Really, any ol’ thing you want to do — just put it on the schedule and then 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 when I wanted to eat it. That was my main focus when finding the right recipes: Foods that could be almost entirely prepared ahead of time so that the day could be spent reading and reading adjacent.


While I’m a person who loves a breakfast dripping with butter and syrup, I also know that breakfasts dripping with butter and syrup are very likely to take me to snoozy town. I looked for recipes that would be decadent and delicious, but not so heavy they’d knock me out.

This frozen yogurt bark feels weird in the mouth but it’s delicious and a great breakfast treat that doesn’t droop the eyes.

Overnight oats are always tasty, in my book, and can be modified to anyone’s liking. My favorite combo is oats, chia seeds, a little bit of peanut butter, oat milk, strawberry, banana, and a touch of maple syrup. Delicious and ready to be eaten when I wake up. Score!

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

If you’d rather not cook, grab a few croissants from your local bakery, set up a little tray with jam and butter the night before, and have yourself an easy, fancy breakfast.


I love a make-ahead chicken salad, egg salad, or vegan tuna salad. I personally prefer the vegan tuna salad which is an A+ recipe whether you love meat or not, as far as I’m concerned. Add some fruit or a side of yogurt and you’ve got my go-to, stay-awake lunch.

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


If you’ve got a slow cooker, you can get something ready the night before the retreat, throw it in the fridge, and then pop it in the slow cooker the morning of the retreat. By the time dinner comes along, you’ve got yourself a lovely stew, casserole, or, my favorite, fixings for tomatillo tacos.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, pasta is a great choice to make ahead and heat up the day of the retreat. It can be a bit heavy and sleep-inducing, but if you’ll notice on the schedule, the only thing you’re doing after dinner is settling in for a bookish viewing. I love this Pasta e Ceci (pasta with chickpeas), but really, you can boil any noodles and grab a can of your favorite pasta sauce and you’ll be fine. Just don’t commit any of these pasta crimes.


Yes, we need dessert — it’s book-reading happy times! Lately I’ve been loving this vintage hot milk cake recipe, which is supremely easy. You could make your favorite cookies (my all-time favorite is the chewy recipe from Alton Brown) or, when you pick up those pastries for your breakfast, grab a few for dessert, too.


Here’s where we need to get serious. I like to have a lot of snack options on hand because I never know what I’ll be craving. But again, I’m always thinking about what’s going to help keep my energy up and what’s going to get me sawing 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 one piece of candy every time I turn a page)
  • Hummus and salsa with chips
  • Popcorn
  • Crackers

You get the point, right — you’ve heard of snacks? Yeah, grab a bunch of them!

What to Read During a Reading Retreat

Now that we’ve got your schedule and your food taken care of, 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 might:

  • Clear up my TBR by reading books I own
  • Pick up some books from the library
  • Use the time to finish a super-long book I’ve been intimidated to try
  • Read a bunch of shorter books
  • Cycle through four or five books a chapter at a time

The great thing is that you don’t necessarily have to choose one option and stick with it. Pick up some library books to have on hand, but get a pile of your own TBR ready too. Have big and little books on deck.

The key to the perfect reading retreat is doing lots of planning and having lots of options. Now go forth to read, and as a good friend of mine used to say, “I wish you excessive enjoyment!”