Camille Stell

Stell: My Reading Challenge

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Stephen King,
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, most fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read”

Stephen King,
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I don’t set New Year’s resolutions, primarily because I’ll fail to keep them and I don’t like failure. However, in 2016, inspired by Stephen King’s memoir on writing (which I’ve read many times), I set a New Year’s resolution – read 52 books during the year.

As I write this, I’m in week 50 of 2016 and I’ve read 46 books. I’m convinced I’ll reach my goal. One, because I’m taking a week of vacation before the end of the year so the competitor in me can make up for lost time. And two, because I have a small stack of VERY short books including a Christmas gift from my dear friend and colleague Jay Reeves, Anna Quindlen’s “A Short Guide to a Happy Life.”

I thought I’d share with you some of my insights on reading 52 books in a year, as well as some of my favorites.

The Challenge

First, a book a week is daunting. When the new year began I was reading a book about the creation of the Panama Canal by David McCullough. At over 800 pages, I quickly realized I’d have to put this book back on the reading pile. As I looked at my stack of books, I realized many of my upcoming reads were heavy on history and biographies that were hundreds of pages. These would best be read in a year that didn’t include a 52 book reading challenge.

As I continued to read during the year, I had to make decisions along the way. “If I stop a book I don’t like, can I count it towards my goal?” No. “Can I skim a book I don’t love, but count it towards my goal?” Yes, provided I read the majority of the book and lightly skimmed. “Can I include children’s books or Young Adult Fiction?” Yes to both. I included a slim collection of Christmas short stories written by Louisa May Alcott as well as the latest Harry Potter publication, a stage play titled “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”. By September, the Challenge drove every book selection decision. I still read books that were on my list and that I wanted to read, but memoirs and business books were a much better fit for a book a week. No one but me was monitoring my challenge, but I wanted to feel I had earned my reward of completing 52 books.


This year I read memoirs or essays by David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Pat Conroy, Anderson Cooper, Rob Lowe, Drew Barrymore, Ray Kroc, Dr. Paul Kalanithi and Shondra Rhimes.

While I enjoyed each of these authors, I recommend “When Breath Becomes Air” by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. Dr. Kalanithi is a 37-year old neurosurgeon who died in 2015 of lung cancer. His beautiful memoir leads us through a soul-searching journey on what makes life worth living.

One of my favorite collection of essays was the posthumously published “A Low Country Heart: Reflections of a Writing Life” by Pat Conroy. Conroy has been my favorite writer since I discovered “The Prince of Tides.” This collection of essays was more meaningful as it was the last. Conroy’s books occupy a single shelf devoted to my favorite author and I re-read them more than any others in my collection.

I read multiple business books this year: “The Future of the Professions” by Richard Susskind, “Personal Branding 101” by Katy Goshtasbi, JD, “Internet Branding for Lawyers” by Jeff Lantz, “Lawyers at Midlife: Financial Planning” by Michael Long, Mary Crane’s “100 Things You Need to Know” series for lawyers, “The Anxious Lawyer” (on implementing a meditation practice) by Jeena Cho, and “Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking” by Chris J. Anderson.

I enjoyed all of these books and they are available to Lawyers Mutual insureds through our Lending Library (visit our website for more details). I’d recommend “Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking” by Chris J. Anderson. I hope you are familiar with TED Talks and either watch them on video at, through the TED app on your mobile device or via the TED Radio Hour, an NPR podcast. The book analyzes many of the best TED Talks and offers guidance for anyone to become a more powerful public speaker. Topics covered include: common traps, idea building, the allure of stories and how to control your nerves.

The Technology of Tracking the Reading Challenge

My colleague Warren Savage introduced me to GoodBooks, a mobile app (and website) that includes book reviews, recommendations, social sharing with friends and the ability to create your catalogue of books you have read, are currently reading or want to read. I use the app’s Reading Challenge to track my progress. It’s also nice to have a single place to track recommendations I receive from friends or books I read about that I want to add to my reading list.

Your Reading Challenge

There are many ways to set your own reading challenge. You can embark on a plan to read a certain number of books, books from new or different genres than your “go-to”, or take a tour through classic literature. Perhaps re-reading some of those high school assignments that once seemed like a chore would be a good start.

Ann Morgan, a freelance writer from London, embarked on a great reading adventure. As she describes it on her blog, “In 2012, the world come to London for the Olympics and I went out to meet it. I read my way around all of the globe’s 196 independent countries . . . sampling a book from every nation.” To see Morgan’s extraordinary book list visit here – A Year of Reading the World –

I read to learn. I read because I love it. I read to become a better writer. Join me in setting your own reading challenge for 2017.

Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at or 800.662.8843.

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