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Local Book Lovers Share Their Current Reads

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them,” Ray Bradbury warned us. That’s hardly a concern in Bloomington.

A book is never far from reach for the best thinkers and creators in our city, so we asked some of them to share what they’re currently reading.

Mike Adams, musician and production assistant at Community Access TV. | Limestone Post

Mike Adams, musician and production assistant at Community Access TV. | Limestone Post

Several Bloomingtonians shared insights they have gleaned from literary works they’ve recently encountered. Their suggestions make a reading list that not only gives a window into their personalities but also forces us to reflect on how Bloomington can become even more embracing.

Mike Adams

Mike Adams, musician (currently with Mike Adams at His Honest Weight) and production assistant at Community Access TV, is drawn to any works by Carson Mell, a writer for the HBO comedy Silicon Valley.

“He’s got a knack for turning normal situations on their heads and for creating characters that are truly weird with unique perspectives,” says Adams. “And by ‘weird’ I mean surprising and unusual in a delightful way.”

Janae Cummings, chair of the board of directors of Bloomington PRIDE. | Courtesy photo

Janae Cummings, chair of the board of directors of Bloomington PRIDE. | Courtesy photo

Most recently, Adams read Mell’s Saguaro: The Life & Adventures of Bobby Allen Bird, the fictional story of rock star Bobby Bird. While the theme doesn’t immediately relate to current events, it demonstrates “the ever-present need to see and relate to others as complex individuals.”

Janae Cummings

“As a black queer woman, issues of race and identity are always top of mind,” says Janae Cummings, chair of the board of directors of Bloomington PRIDE. “Over the last year, I’ve more actively sought out books and media that meditate on these themes.”

She’s currently reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, Audre Lorde’s A Burst of Light and Other Essays, Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda, and other works by Coates, “when the mood suits,” she says.

These have been “emotional and — in places — difficult,” she says, “but well worth it, on a personal and community level.” Bloomington, says Cummings, is often seen as somehow “too progressive” to be coupled with problems on a national level. But that is “a nice thought,” she explains. “It’s also a fantasy. There’s much work to be done, here and now, in our own backyard.”

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Richard Wehrenberg, book designer, poet, and member of Monster House Collective. | Photo by Anna Powell Teeter

Richard Wehrenberg, book designer, poet, and member of Monster House Collective. | Photo by Anna Powell Teeter

Referring to Rankine’s and Lorde’s work in particular, Cummings says, “For anyone hoping to make a difference — or simply gain greater understanding, I’m finding both books to be necessary reads.”

Richard Wehrenberg

For Richard Wehrenberg, book designer, poet, and member of Monster House Collective, it’s common to read several books at once. “They all resonate for different reasons,” says Wehrenberg.

They just finished Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. After, they started reading poems by Maggie Anderson, a mentor of theirs in college. Then came Hard Child by Natalie Shapero, a poet from Ohio, and Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar, whom Monster House hosted on November 3 for a reading at The Void. Switching themes, Wehrenberg also dedicates time to Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles, which speaks to their “soul self.”

Wehrenberg’s reading list typically covers things that are social, political, and environmental in nature, but it’s usually by accident. “I don’t necessarily look for those things,” they say, “but I always find them somehow.”

Cristian Medina

Besides his work as a research geologist at the Indiana Geological & Water Survey at Indiana University, Cristian Medina is the founding editor of Cardboard House Press.

Christian Medina, research geologist at the Indiana Geological & Water Survey at Indiana University and founding editor of Cardboard House Press. | Photo by Chaz Mottinger

Christian Medina, research geologist at the Indiana Geological & Water Survey at Indiana University and founding editor of Cardboard House Press. | Photo by Chaz Mottinger

One book Cardboard House Press recently published, My Lai by Carmen Berenguer, has particular relevance to Bloomington. The book of poems is set 30 to 40 years ago, yet Medina sees frightening parallels between that time period and today’s world. Berenguer, originally from Chile, touches on themes of discrimination, abuse, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and more.

“Much of its content describes a small town in Iowa and shows how diversity can enrich our daily life and opportunity that we also have in Bloomington, Indiana,” says Medina.

Jared Cheek

Jared Cheek’s literary inclination toward nonfiction about entertainers is logical, considering his career in music. The owner and manager of Flannelgraph Records admits, though, the best books are professional wrestler autobiographies. “They’re not always the best writers, but they have great stories!” he says.

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Jared Cheek, owner and manager of Flannelgraph Records. | Photo by Chaz Mottinger

Jared Cheek, owner and manager of Flannelgraph Records. | Photo by Chaz Mottinger

Right now he’s reading John Birch’s Prefab Sprout: The Early Years, about the English rock band Prefab Sprout, who rose to fame in the 1980s. Cheek enjoys learning how the band stayed true to who they wanted to be, “even though they would initially be dismissed or even spat upon for playing their weird, complex chords.”

Efrat Feferman

Efrat Feferman has strong roots in both Bloomington and in the field of community development and is the new executive director of United Way of Monroe County.

One recent book on her list was Cupcake Brown’s A Piece of Cake: A Memoir, which Feferman refers to as “an instructive tale.” The story heart-wrenchingly details Brown’s survival of prostitution, crime, addiction, and abuse, tragedies that had roots in her unstable childhood. This tale may be tough to read, but it ultimately gives Feferman hope, especially as it relates to her role in the community.

Efrat Feferman, the new executive director of United Way of Monroe County. | Photo by Chaz Mottinger

Efrat Feferman, the new executive director of United Way of Monroe County. | Photo by Chaz Mottinger

“It not only highlighted for me the need for a safety net that’s tightly woven to protect our most vulnerable,” says Feferman, “but also of the ability of individuals to positively impact and inspire others on a personal level, as it did for Ms. Brown in her life.”

Ron Bronson

Ron Bronson says he tends to read several books of different genres at the same time, “mostly reflecting my eclectic interests and partially to keep things interesting.” The webmaster of the City of Bloomington also dabbles in divergent interests, from being a WFHB news anchor to speaking around the world on digital transformation.

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Ron Bronson, webmaster of the City of Bloomington and WFHB news anchor. | Photo by Adam Reynolds

Ron Bronson, webmaster of the City of Bloomington and WFHB news anchor. | Photo by Adam Reynolds

Recently, reading Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America exposed, Bronson says, “how complicit the federal government was in picking the ‘winner and losers’ of the economy across generations,” something he hadn’t known before reading. “It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the roots of many of the problems we deal with in communities today,” he says.

You’ll also find him — maybe at a local coffee shop — reading Carrie Tirado Bramen’s American Niceness: A Cultural History and Golden Krishna’s The Best Interface Is No Interface.

Danielle McClelland

“It’s a really important perspective for people to have,” says Danielle McClelland, executive director of BCT Management Inc. (which runs the Buskirk-Chumley Theater), about Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. The book turns on its head the belief that hard work and liberty means social mobility and instead offers a compelling argument for confronting our often ignored relationship to class in this country.

Danielle McClelland, executive director of BCT Management Inc. | Courtesy photo

Danielle McClelland, executive director of BCT Management Inc. | Courtesy photo

For McClelland, Isenberg’s book offers startling truths about Bloomington’s trajectory and where we might end up, if not careful. The thing about Bloomington, ze says, is that its relative affordability has always attracted the brightest and most creative minds. Right now in Bloomington, ze says, we should be “very conscious of the potential for us to go in a direction that leaves lower income behind.”

Nick Blandford

As managing director of  Secretly Group (the company that runs several independent record labels including Secretly Canadian), Nick Blandford’s latest item on his reading list hit close to home. Erin Osmon’s Jason Molina: Riding With the Ghost recounts the life and career of the late artist Jason Molina, as well as the Midwest music underground that he helped form. It also details the inception of Secretly Canadian, the Bloomington label that represented Molina.

Nick Blandford, managing director of Secretly Group. | Courtesy photo

Nick Blandford, managing director of Secretly Group. | Courtesy photo

For Blandford, the book is “uniquely interesting, as it connects to my job and the history of our record label and the music scene in Bloomington. The history of some of the stories in there predate me, which is cool.”

Also an avid Atlantic reader, he recommends Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The First White President.”

[Editor’s Message: These are all great gift ideas for people in your life this holiday season. We’ve linked many of these books to Amazon, but, whenever possible — shop local!]

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Contributors
Allison Yates on sabinstagram
Allison Yates
Allison graduated from Indiana University in 2014 with degrees in International Studies, Spanish, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Since then, she's worked and traveled in Europe, Asia, and Australia. She writes about travel, social justice, and community in the U.S. Midwest, Ibiza, and Latin America. Follow her on Instagram
Chaz Mottinger
Chaz Mottinger is a portrait, event, and life photographer. She freelances in addition to working for Pictura Gallery and Indiana University Communications. You can find more of Chaz's work on her website.
Adam Reynolds on sabinstagram
Adam Reynolds
Adam Reynolds is a documentary photographer who grew up in Bloomington and now calls Indianapolis home. He is a photographic educator with an MFA from Indiana University. His first photo book, Architecture of an Existential Threat, was published in the summer of 2017. His work can be seen at adamreynoldsphotography.com, or follow him on Instagram at @apreynol13. Contributor photo by Mike Tittel
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