Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

storied-life-aj-fikryIn the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, 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.” – Publisher Summary

It is with a tear in my eye but much joy in my heart that I bring to you news of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This funny and touching novel is written as much for your mind as it is for your heart. It is truly a gift to bibliophiles everywhere, and it will steal the hearts of those who are suckers for a love story as well.

A.J. Fikry is a bitter, lonely widower who owns the only bookstore on Alice Island. His only solace is the knowledge that he can soon retire on the earnings he will receive upon selling his first edition copy of Tamerlane by Edgar Allen Poe. Until, that is… it is stolen. A.J.’s mind is soon taken off of the theft, however, when he is left a much larger gift in the back of his bookstore, one that is sure to shock and awe and possibly change his life.

Time passes quickly throughout the book, and years tend to be skipped over without mention – but this does not take away from the pleasure of the read. Rather than focusing strongly on plot development, the author focuses more on relating the development of the main character and the evolvement of his life. Each chapter of this brief novel begins with a short narrative by A.J., recommending his favorite works of fiction. In addition to these recommendations by A.J., there are numerous allusions and references to a variety of works of literature throughout the novel.

Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin

I loved that this novel was centered around books. I loved the way that Zevin shaped her characters around their reading preferences. Indeed, as Zevin explains in an interview on NPR:

“I thought as a strategy it would be really interesting to describe people in terms of what they read and how they read. I think you can do a lot, like describing people with their physical characteristics, things like that, but to me I’ve always found it to be a  much more informative questions to ask somebody what they read.”

I adore the way that Zevin took her characters’ love of books and reading and used them to enmesh their lives with each other’s. It is what I imagine my own life becoming, were I to be surrounded by other book lovers instead of the illiterate heathens that make up my current friends and family (joking, joking). Truly, this novel is a love letter to readers of all ages, shapes and sizes, to book lovers and book sellers and librarians, to any and all who feel their heartbeat quicken at the sight of a good book. I will leave you with my favorite quote from this novel:

“We are to the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.”

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Buy it. Read it. Adore it.

4.5 of 5 stars

Source: Algonquin {via NetGalley}

 

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