The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
2014 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Finished on August 11, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.
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 Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in the his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he 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, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. 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., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, 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.
We readers do so love books about books, don’t we? And as a bookseller, I love reading about bookstores, with all the remarks about handselling, ARCs and galleys, and of course, customers. I think I fell in love with Gabrielle Zevin’s novel before I even opened up the book to the first page. The cover art, as well as the back cover blurbs, grabbed my attention and I couldn’t wait to dive in!
On reading tastes:
“Like,” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? 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—nonfiction only, please. 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. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to. For your part, you needn’t tell me about the ‘next big series’ until it is ensconced on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Above all, Ms. Loman, I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter how many copies you promise I’ll sell on Mother’s Day.”
On keeping up with the times:
“Why must I? What is so great about the times?” A.J. has often reflected that, bit by bit, all the best things in the world are being carved away like fat from meat. First, it had been the record stores, and then the video stores, and then newspapers and magazines, and now even the big chain bookstores were disappearing everywhere you looked. From his point of view, the only thing worse than a world with big chain bookstores was a world with NO big chain bookstores. At least the big stores sell books and not pharmaceuticals or lumber! At least some of the people who work at those stores have degrees in English literature and know how to read and curate books for people! At least the big stores can sell ten thousand units of publisher’s dreck so that Island gets to sell one hundred units of literary fiction!
I loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It’s a delightful book that made me laugh out loud and tugged at my heartstrings. Highly recommend!
Go here to listen to a NPR interview with Gabrielle Zevin.