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Spinecrackers read 100th book
Members of a local club have visited India, Africa and the distant shores of Denmark. They’ve sat in the jury box at a local murder trial, they’ve walked with Malcolm X, and they’ve watched as a forgettable horse swept the Triple Crown.
And they’ve done it all through reading. “This group of women from Yuma has been all these places ... because in a way, you sort of feel like you’ve been transported,” said Lori Stofft, co-founder of Spinecrackers book club.
This past February, the members of Spinecrackers book club celebrated the reaching of its 100th book, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. The group celebrated with a cake and candles and by donating over 100 titles to the Friends of the Library.
Stofft and her friend, Brenna Paulin, started the club in September 2001 after discovering they shared a mutual love of reading. Paulin said, “We just decided to each come up with a list of people that we knew that were avid readers. We each invited about 10 people, and we had the first meeting at my house, and I picked the first book.”
The purpose of the club is to share a love of literature with other people who enjoy reading, Stofft said. They also send books and magazines to troops overseas.
Although about 16 people attended the first meeting, the group has grown to 26 members with a regular average attendance of about 15.
The Spinecrackers book club concept is simple: A member chooses a month to host, then chooses the book. The host usually prepares questions, does supplemental research, or finds online interviews or commentary to share.
Nobody can say no to a book a member picks, but anyone not interested in a particular book can opt not to read it or attend that month’s discussion, Stofft said.
“The first book was 'The Shipping News.' I heard a review of the book on NPR radio; E. Annie Proulx is the author, and I thought it sounded fascinating, and then Brenna picked it.”
A mish-mosh of people attended that first meeting, Stofft said. “Some of them are good friends, and some of them are just people that like books that we might not know all that well. And we had this very loud first meeting, where some people were like, ‘I hated this book because the author doesn’t respect punctuation!’ That’s the funniest gripe I remember.
“Or people were like, ‘This character wasn’t believable.’ But I had been completely swept away by this book because it’s set in Newfoundland, and it’s cold and icy and there’s family tragedy and cover-ups and sad, loveless adult lives.”
Paulin said that during the monthly meetings, discussions about politics or religion can sometimes get heated, but discussions can also be mind-broadening, “Sometimes someone will make an observation about a book, and somebody across the room will say, ‘You know, I never thought about that’ or ‘I didn’t read it that way,’ and so I think we open up new horizons for each other.”
The books range back and forth from serious social topics to good ol’ easy reading. Stofft said about 80 percent of the selections are fiction, whereas the remainder are nonfiction such as biographies and memoirs.
Titles range from “Guns, Germs & Steel,” by Jared Diamond and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, to “Raven Woman” by Yuma author Pinkie Paranya.
The group typically meets at different members’ houses or at a public place such as a restaurant or the library. “Whoever picks the book decides where it’s going to be,” Paulin said.
While almost everyone likes something about almost every book, there have been some that were unpopular, she said. Nonetheless, the book’s host is encouraged to get up in front of the group and take the criticism “like a man,” she joked.
Speaking of man, not one has joined the club yet, although some have been invited, the co-founders said. Children, however, are not allowed. “We did make one rule early on: you can’t bring kids to the book club just because it changes the dynamics of the group,” said Stofft, who was a new mother when the club was founded.
The women enjoy reading books alone and then discussing them together at the monthly meetings, where snacks and beverages are often served by the current month’s host. Paulin said, “If there’s regional food in the book, the host may make it.”
Take “Babette’s Feast,” for example. The short story by author Isak Dinesen is about a housemaid who comes into some money and spends it on preparing a wonderful feast for the people she works for, to celebrate the anniversary of their religious sect, Stofft said. “She’s French … and she’s infusing joy into their lives, and they’re giggling and enjoying rare French wine.”
So when the group read that book, some members searched online for recipes and replicated the feast for the club to enjoy during that month’s discussion. “We also watched the film,” Stofft said.
The group often watches films of the titles they read, and they attend author’s readings locally and elsewhere. “My husband calls us autograph (floozies),” Paulin said, laughing.
By the end of the year, group members are in the mood for light, short books, Stofft said.
And that suits the agenda well, as the group combines the December discussion with a Christmas party and its annual Academy Awards of Spinecrackers.
“We judge on Author You Would Most Like to Have in the Book Club,” Stofft said. Other categories include Best Sex Scene in the Book, Favorite Character, Book That Changed Your Life or Most Difficult Book. Past winners include “Three Cups of Tea” and "Kite Runner.”
Stofft said, “Best Sex Scene has been won by ‘Outlanders.'”
Paulin said, “I think last year I won Best Sex Scene for 'Deliverance,' I beg your pardon.”
Spinecrackers is a comfortable-sized group that fits well in someone’s living room, and each member has a chance to speak at meetings. So the group is not looking for new members. However, its co-founders would be happy to help people start their own group, they said. After all, a similar group in Phoenix helped them develop their guidelines.
For more information, Paulin can be reached at 783-3071 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and Stofft can be reached at 329-1823 or email@example.com.