Byte of Prevention Blog

by Camille Stell |

Reading Challenge pt I

reading challenge“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 KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

In 2016, I set a New Year’s resolution – a reading challenge to read 52 books in a year. By December 31, I had achieved my goal plus one – 53 books read in 2016.

I thought I would 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 building 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. There was no one monitoring my challenge but me, 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 was 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 knowing it would be the last. All of Conroy’s books occupy a single shelf of space devoted to my favorite author and I re-read them more than any other author I have collected.

I read multiple business books, many of those intended for lawyers: “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. I 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 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.

For a laugh-out-loud read, I recommend “Holidays on Ice” by David Sedaris. Sedaris grew up in Raleigh and attended college at Western Carolina University. Holidays is a collection of holiday themed essays. “SantaLand Diaries” was originally broadcast on NPR in 1992 and was the coming out of his public life as a humorist. I dare you to read his account of working as an elf at Macy’s department store without a few laugh-out-loud moments. Reading this essay each year has become one of my Christmas traditions.

If you only read one of my recommendations, make it “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. Bryan is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and a professor of law at New York University of Law. Bryan captures our attention with these words: “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. Simply punishing the broken only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Check back tomorrow as I discuss how I tracked my reading challenge and on the final day I will share my book list and reflections from my year in 53 books.

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


About the Author

Camille Stell

Camille Stell is President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting and Services, offering succession planning, business development coaching, keynote presentations and more. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at or 800.662.8843.

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