Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Note: Thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill for giving me a preview of this excellent book.

There is just something I found incredibly intriguing about a title such as The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Perhaps it was the use of the word “storied,” or maybe it was the mysterious initials instead of the full first and middle name. Whatever the reason, Gabrielle Zevin chose her title as wisely as she did her subject matter: A curmudgeonly bookseller and widower with a prejudice against most books, except those he deems worthy, and a habit of drinking himself into oblivion at night.

Fikry owns Island Books on a small, isolated island off the New England coast. He moved there with the love of his life and sank into isolated, angry despair upon her death. This is where we meet the fabled Fikry, through the eyes of a publisher’s new (quirky!) representative who resolves to sell Fikry books that he’ll likely never buy (or so the previous representative’s note says). Add in the abandonment of a baby in Fikry’s bookshop and the theft of a priceless manuscript and you have an engrossing tale filled with multiple chances for Fikry to earn the redemption, acceptance, friendship and love that he seems not to want.

This book was, in a word, perfect. There is romance, mystery, comedy and lessons on love, life and being a parent. And Zevin makes a wonderful choice in marking each new chapter with a recommendation of Fikry’s favorite short stories, each having some tie to the events that make up that chapter. I love when stories are told using interesting devices like this, and this is a unique device that I’m not sure I’ve seen before.

Here are some of my favorite quotes of from this lovely book:

“People are attached to their bookstores, more attached than A.J. Fikry ever would have guessed. It matters who placed A Wrinkle in Time in your twelve-year-old daughter’s nail-bitten fingers or who sold you that Let’s Go travel guide to Hawaii or who insisted that your aunt with the very particular tastes would surely adore Cloud Atlas.” (252)

I also loved Cloud Atlas. In fact I just read another novel by David Mitchell, so look for the review here. The next quote I love just because it reminds so much of the famous line from Empire Strikes Back, but with what Leia might have actually been thinking when she says it to Han.

“‘I love you,’ she says with a resigned shrug. ‘I want to leave you with something cleverer than that, but it’s all I know.'” (245)

Finally I wanted to add this one because it fits perfectly with my philosophy on school reading lists:

“‘Do you like Moby Dick?’ he asks.
‘I hate it,’ she says. ‘And I don’t say that about many things. Teachers assign it, and parents are happy because their kids are reading something of ‘quality.’ But it’s forcing kids to read books like that that make them think they hate reading.'” (94)

This is a great book and one I definitely recommend. It’s got everything a great book needs, including recommendations for and references about other good books. It is as if the author infused all of her love of reading, writing, books and bookstores into one beautiful book. And, yes, it will make you cry. But, really, so do all the really good books.

EDIT: Don’t trust my overly glowing opinion? Want to see what other bloggers have to say? Then check out Word For Worms Fellowship of the Worms post, as well as her list of bloggers who have also reviewed this book!

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

  1. Thanks for linking up with the Fellowship of the Worms! I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I did, and I’m glad you liked the Moby Dick quote, too!!!! (I so hated my high school English teacher for making us read Moby Dick. Ugh.)

  2. Pingback: Mini-Reviews: Fall Reads | Beta Librarian

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