The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Pub. Date: April 1, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Algonquin!!)
Summary: On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.
Genre: Adult, Fiction
There ain’t nobody in the world like book people.
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is a love letter. A love letter to booksellers. A love letter to bookstores. A love letter to readers. As a bookseller I was looking forward to this one (and was even more excited that the plot dealt with Edgar Allan Poe). As a reader, however, I fell in love with this world Zevin created and with the characters she crafted. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this book became wildly popular and can easily see it becoming a book club favorite.
A.J. Fikry is a crotchety middle-aged man and owner of the sole bookstore on Alice Island. Prior to his wife’s death, the pair ran the store together, but these days it’s just him and a part-time student. The night his copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane is stolen, A.J.’s world changes forever. In a mad dash to the police station, he doesn’t lock the bookstore’s door, and when he returns he discovers a baby and a note.
Caring for the child – Maya – leaves a permanent mark on A.J. His rough edges are softening, he’s no longer the tired and curt man he once was. As word gets out, many of Alice’s residents make it a point to frequent the bookstore to check on Maya and offer advice. Over time these visits become more and more regular and soon bookclubs take shape. Island Bookstore might not be able to compete with giant chain stores, but there’s a fierce love that resides in its walls.
While the events seem like something straight out of a movie – rare book is stolen, a baby turns up in its place – Zevin writes in a way that makes the story wholly believable. I had no trouble picturing A.J.’s sister-in-law Ismay (suffering miscarriage after miscarriage with a husband who has multiple affairs), Amelia (a sales rep who was initially given the cold shoulder, but breaks her way through A.J.’s shell), Lambiase (the sweet police chief who takes a shine to Maya and starts the police department book club, Chief’s Choice), or any of the other wonderful characters in this book. They were all terribly flawed, but had reasons for their actions, and I couldn’t get enough.
When I first began reading I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to enjoy this book. It felt far too different from the book I had imagined, but I pressed on and soon it became apparent my worries were silly. While this wasn’t the story I had thought it was going to be, it turned out to be even better. I loved watching Maya grow and the short story recommendations A.J. gives to her throughout the novel made my heart sing. Roald Dahl, Aimee Bender, Raymond Carver, there are stories I’m familiar with as well as stories that are new to me – and I look forward to checking them out! There are just as many references to bestselling authors like James Patterson and David Foster Wallace as there are indie writers.
The more I read the more I found myself falling in love. I’m not sure whether it was the bookseller in me or the reader, but my heartstrings were certainly tugged. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry isn’t an easy novel for me to review and I know far more readers will be able to explain their thoughts better than I am. Like I said earlier, this book is a love letter and I took every word to heart. There are moments that made me laugh out loud, scenes made me teary-eyed, and I rejoiced in A.J.’s rants. Booksellers will love this one. Readers will love this one.
Her mother likes to say that novels have ruined Amelia for real men. This observation insults Amelia because it implies that she only reads books with classically romantic heroes. She does not mind the occasional novel with a romantic hero but her reading tastes are far more varied than that. Furthermore, she adores Humbert Humbert as a character while accepting the fact that she wouldn’t really want him for a life partner, a boyfriend, or even a casual acquaintance. She feels the same way about Holden Caulfield, and Misters Rochester and Darcy.
“Infinite Jest is a masterpiece,” Harvey had said.
“Infinite Jest is an endurance contest. You manage to get through it and you have no choice but to say you like it. Otherwise, you have to deal with the fact that you just wasted weeks of your life,” A.J. had countered.
“A place is not really a place without a bookstore.”
We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.
People are attached to their bookstores, more attached than A.J. Fikry would have ever guessed. It matters who placed A Winkle in Time in your twelve-year-old daughter’s nail-bitten fingers or who sold you that Let’s Go travel guide to Hawaii or who insisted that your aunt with the very particular tastes would surely adore Cloud Atlas.