Are you suffering from Tsundoku? I know I am. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if there’s a situation in modern life, the Germans or the Japanese will have a word for it. Tsundoku is the accumulation of reading material that you then don’t read. Also known as That Pile Of Books By The Bed.

The thing is about That Pile is every one of those books looked really enticing when you picked it up, but something about being in That Pile makes them turn into homework on a Sunday evening. Someone I know has wrapped their Pile in newspaper so it starts looking more intriguing again. I suggest dismantling it and redistributing the books around the house until it grows again. It will. 

Reading, generally, is often a ‘should’ activity rather than a pleasure. 

‘I should read more.’

‘I should read more literary books.’

‘I should read that book that someone recommended.’

‘If I want to be a good writer, I should read widely in my genre.’

I read for work, literally. I read authors’ books and advise them, and I read other books to know what’s out there in the market. Above all, though, I’m a committed bookworm who has become a professional reader because it’s what I really enjoy. 

As a small child, my mother used to leave me in a bookshop while she went shopping for an hour or so, and I would read a couple of books under the table. These days I think bookshop owners are a bit stricter about what gets left in their shops!

In school I became known for reading as I walked between lessons and to the tube, developing excellent peripheral vision and never came to any harm. Now I still need to read for pleasure most days or I get tense, an addict needing her fix.

So what do I enjoy about reading, specifically? I love how it takes me into another world, and those worlds can be so different to my own but I still recognise what the characters are feeling and doing. A really good book sucks me in so completely that I forget I’m actually reading until something wakes me and I jolt back into reality. Beautiful writing makes me stop and just see the words sitting there, like a wet pebble on the beach, unexpectedly lovely and arresting. 

Those are the great moments of reading, but even diving into an average thriller or an easy-reading non-fiction book can entrance me. Books that make me think feel like yoga for the brain. Books that lull me feel like a mental hot bath.

Despite this, there are still days where reading a book feels like a chore so I decided to start going on Reading Retreats. At least once a year, I clear the decks and go away for a few days with a big pile of books – not That Pile, sometimes one or two off That Pile - and do nothing else except read.

Although I love my Kindle, I try and make sure I only read paper books so that I can switch off from electronic distractions. 

I look for books that really entice me, that remind me what I love about reading and that aren’t on any ‘Must Read These’ list. 

It can be really hard these days to make time for reading, there is so much else to do and so many distractions but it’s very valuable and really calming to just devote yourself to an activity you know you love.

With this in mind, I’ve set up www.readingretreat.co.uk with a friend of mine who is an excellent cook and hostess, to offer the experience to others who need that space and time to read. Our small group retreats take place in lovely houses around the country. Our single priority is to give you space and time to read. All your meals are prepared, speciality teas, freshly brewed coffee and soft drinks are on tap and you can choose solitude or shared time with other readers. 

What do you do when you need to read? What are the essential ingredients you require for the best reading experience? Are you planning on your own Reading Retreat this year? I offer a personalised reading prescription for the Reading Retreats, what books would you take?


Cressida Downing, The Book Analyst, has worked in publishing and bookselling for over 20 years. As a freelance editorial consultant, she works for literary agents, publishers and directly for authors. She regularly attends conferences and runs workshop for aspiring authors . Following a lovely reading retreat experience, she is now offering these for others, www.readingretreat.co.uk. She would buy books rather than clothes or food, and lives in East Anglia with two children, two cats, one husband and a baby gecko. Visit her website here.