The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
published Algonquin Books
by April 2014
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
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.
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.
A.J. Fikry is a major bookworm and a major grump. He is the owner of the independ bookstore, Island Books, on the fictional Alice Island, and he is extremely unhappy. He is grieving for his dead wife, Nic, and struggling to keep the floundering bookstore going. One day, he discovers someone has left a baby in his store, with a note asking him to take care of her. The change in A.J.’s life is truly amazing.
This is a wonderful novel from the author. I love stories about books, book lovers, and bookstores, and this encompasses all three. As snarky and obnoxious as A.J. is, the reader really comes to love him. I want to go into Island Books, and shop around!
She Reads truly picked a winner in their April Book Club selection. Head over there to read more reviews of this wonderful book.
Some great quotes:
“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?”
“Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agreed to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.”
“Remember, Maya: the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life.”
“Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.”
“I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be—basically gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and — I imagine this goes without saying — vampires.”