Book Smart: Kansas City Neighbors Share a Love of Reading


Erika Riley

– VOL. 9

When Celeste Bradford moved into the Venn Community in Kansas City in May 2021, she didn’t expect to meet her neighbors through a book club — a book club she started, no less.

In fact, Bradford, who had moved into the community for its proximity to public transportation, didn’t know about Venn until she saw a poster advertising a community event over the summer. When she met the team at one of the outdoor events, they asked her if she wanted to start a group of her own or become a Building Ambassador. Her passion for reading immediately came to mind. 

“Reading, for me, it’s an experience because I love turning pages, I love reading how characters develop,” Bradford said. “It’s a way to go to different places and have different experiences and see how other people have lived.”

A long-time fan of classic authors like James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Bradford reads about three to four books a month. Her reading really picked up about one year prior to moving to the Venn community, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly taking time off work, she found herself connecting with her friends back in Florida, where she had lived before moving to Kansas City to be closer to family. They would recommend books to her, and with her newfound free time, she devoured them.

“So that just kind of revived my reading time. And then I started setting actual reading goals,” Bradford shared. “I read about 40 books last year.” 

Image of Kansas City book club

In September, the Kansas City book club gathered for its first meeting led by Celeste. 


So sliding back into a community of readers was easy for Bradford. The Venn team helps facilitate a bimonthly poll in the Venn app where neighbors can nominate books for the club to read, and then vote on the nominations. After the poll closes, a winner is selected and Venn orders twenty copies of the book. 

Instead of keeping the books and voting closed only to members of the book club, Venn lets everyone be involved.

“It’s for anybody in the community,” Bradford said. “Anyone can join at any time.” 

Typically, the club takes a month to read the book of choice and then meets the following month, either in-person or virtually. So far, the club has read books in a variety of genres including self-help, contemporary fiction, and psychothriller.

In November, the club read “There There” by Tommy Orange to commemorate Native American Heritage Month. Bradford had seen many people on Bookstagram — a community of readers who post about reading on Instagram — recommend “There There.”

In conjunction with their usual meeting, the club also took a field trip to a local powwow at a community college. In “There There,” each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. But at the end of the book, all the characters come together at a powwow, where all the “action and drama” takes place, Bradford said. 

“It was nice to connect with and appreciate that culture,” she shared.

Bradford says she’s met several of her neighbors through the book club. Most meetings garner about 15 people. The group is also diverse, she says, composed of both older and younger readers of all genders. 

She encourages others to consider reading with their friends even if they don’t have a book club to join, or don’t live anywhere near each other. 

“During Covid, with everybody being inside and some people working, some people not, I think that reading is just one of the safe activities that you can do to keep your spirit uplifted and avoid depression,” Bradford explained, “and not feel like you’re just by yourself.”

Image of Kansas City Book Club

For their first read, the book club selected Atomic Habits by James Clear. Each month, members pick a new book by taking a poll in the Life at Venn app.

Read the Kansas City book club’s picks: 


“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear

With over 160,000 5-star reviews on Goodreads, “Atomic Habits” has been one of the most popular self-help books of the last few years. Author James Clear teaches readers how to form new habits with a system that leads to real change.

Celeste’s notes: “This book deals more with weight loss than is advertised, so steer clear if you don’t want to read on that topic.” 

“There There” by Tommy Orange

Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange’s debut novel “There There” was named one of the New York Times’ best books of 2018 and was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize. Set in Oakland, California, the book follows several Native American characters as they prepare for the Big Oakland Powwow. The novel deals with complicated and intense themes of drug abuse, mental health, and unemployment. 

Celeste’s notes: “This book’s large cast of characters eventually do come together for a very exciting finish to the novel.” 

“Never Saw Me Coming” by Vera Kurian

Published in 2021, this psychothriller follows a young woman and diagnosed psychopath named Chloe. Part of a college study in exchange for free tuition, Chloe studies while planning the murder of a person from her past who has wronged her.

Celeste’s notes: “This page-turner sucks you in from the very first sentence and is full of twists and turns.”