Friday, September 5, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books--and booksellers--that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds.  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.

My take: 4 looks
**sigh** There is something wonderful about a book about books. To have your paged loves referenced, validated, debated and in the spotlight. To have books you have considered reading finally make a place on your shelf because a character loved it. To jot down new titles, amazed that you'd never heard of them.

Yes, there is magic in books; but a book about books is almost ethereal.

"The Storied Life" is no different. A.J. finds it easier to be around books rather than people. He is harsh, brash, and rather unforgiving. He knows what he likes and he has very little time or patience for anything outside that realm. He is able to choose books for his store based on his patrons, and knows the best book for each of them. He stays at a safe distance, running off non-buying groups who have huddled in the corner, to making sure everyone is aware of closing time.

Until Amelia comes to call from a publishing company. She catches his gaze, and he sees that there may be something there that he hadn't anticipated. While that happens, he receives a bundle left in his store after hours. Shaken to the spine, A.J. makes some hard adjustments and becomes an altogether likable character. He is honest, forthcoming and an unapologetic book nerd.

While the book was much too fast for me, the characters a bit one-dimensional and flat, I forgive all  based on the entrance to each new chapter being a summary of a book by A.J. to his daughter. The writing is quick and easy to follow, if a little sophomoric. Zevin writes like this is a YA book, and it could be. All of that aside, this was a wonderfully fast run through the life of a bookseller and his bookstore.

As they say in the movies, "You had me at Tamerlane." Highly recommended.

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