Readers on Reading: Brandon O’Brien

Years ago I asked a friend – a knowledgeable, interesting friend – what he was reading. “I don’t read,” was his answer and a confused stutter was my reply. I’ve asked lots of people this question since then and am no longer surprised by my friend’s response. It seems there are many people or whom most reading ceased at the end of their formal education.

In his fantastic book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs makes the point that most reading ought to be enjoyable. Questions about Important Books or what one should read miss the point according to Jacobs. Worse, such questions often keep people from actually picking up a book – any old, pleasurable book – and reading.

I recently emailed a handful of friends who read and asked them each a few questions about their reading habits. My goals were simple: to learn a bit about the reading practices of these friends and to (hopefully) encourage of few of you to pick up a book and remember an old pleasure you may have forgotten. I’ll share their responses in the coming days. Here’s the first…


Brandon O'BrienBrandon O’Brien is the author of The Strategically Small Church and Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. He also blogs at his personal website.

What books are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading about writing. I have Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing and Stephen Pyne’s Voice and Vision on the bedside table.

Where is your favorite place to read?

It’s got to be quiet where I read. I can’t concentrate with music playing or too much background noise, so that really limits my options. My absolute favorite place to read is outside—on a park bench, under a tree, wherever.

E-reader or codex?

For the most part, I’m a codex man. I travel with a NOOK, and I read some fiction and books of essays on it. But I like to underline things and scribble in the margins. And when I’m researching, I like to have several books open at a time on my desk. The e-reader just doesn’t allow for all that.

What book have you recommended the most in the past 12 months?

For the better part of the last 12 months, I’ve been working on a dissertation. So I haven’t done much pleasure reading. That said, I’ve found myself recommending Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, quite a lot. Pastors are the book’s obvious audience, but I think it could be beneficial for anyone struggling to discern their vocation.

What is most enjoyable about your reading life?

I work with books, which means I’m always reading something. A lot of the writing is bad. So the most enjoyable part of my reading life is when I stumble across the rare gem of a book that makes me want to slow down, put my feet up, and soak it in. It’s the rare book or article or blog post that demands the readers attention. I’m always thankful to find one that does.

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