Thanks to author Gabrielle Zevin, I now need a box of tissues and some Turkish delight. Her story about the “persnickety little bookstore and the particular breed that runs them” has me all tied up in emotion. That’s a good thing. (As for the Turkish delight, Fikry and I are waiting on Narnia’s White Witch to share her recipe.)
“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore.” And so goes Zevin’s nod to books (in this case a loving reference to Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS) and the small-town, cozy bookstores that are a home to those books. THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY is a long-form love letter for people that, in the words of Fikry, “desire to connect”, realizing that “we connect through the stories we read and share.” Yes, it is about love: love of books, love of bookstores, and love for one another.
Zevin’s character A.J. Fikry is the owner of Island Books, where “No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World.” The book begins with Fikry’s journal comments about Dahl’s JAMES AND GIANT PEACH, which serves as a transition into each new chapter. Fikry is particular about the books he loves (aren’t we all?). Amelia, as the new book rep from Knightley Press, enters the scene in time to meet Fikry tied-up in loneliness and despair after the loss of his wife. The catalyst of change for Fikry, and his reception of Amelia, is the theft of his original Poe book and a special surprise left in his store. However, if you look at the cover of this book, you may guess what that surprising catalyst may be.
Books and character: that’s what drives this story. Fikry says, “People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, ‘What is your favorite book?’” In every inch of THE STORIED LIFE, characters are defined by the books they read. As characters develop, so do their books. Even Fikry, who seems to have read everything, opens up to new authors and genres, eventually relenting to admit, “everything new is not worse than everything old.” I won’t spoil it beyond that.
The highest compliment Fikry can pay a book is: “Every word the right one and exactly where it should be.” I can’t say that about THE STORIED LIFE; I have one complaint: it should be longer. But isn’t that a compliment? In this case, major plot points emerged or characters would form alliances without much build-up. This may be my fault for just reading Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH, but I would have liked more build-up. And, for what the book lacks in surprising plot twists, it more than makes up for it charm.
In the end, THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY has been a pleasure to read; it gladdens the heart and warms the soul. If you loved THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE and want a novel with the same sentiment, this is it. I would highly recommend this to any book lover: reader, teacher, seller…you.
As a side note: I appreciate the inside witty humor about celebrity author blurbs on book covers being known as “the blood diamonds of the book industry”, and that “show, don’t tell” is “a complete crock of s***”.
Thanks to Algonquin Books for sending this book to me for review. It’s a keeper.