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


We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.

It was a crappy night, and I just wanted a book that would make me happy. I wanted something pleasant that I could knock out in one sitting, curled up in my bed and drinking tea. I thought The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry would be fine enough. I was wrong. It was exactly what I needed.

A.J. Fikry is the owner of an independent bookstore on the isolated Alice Island, but he wouldn’t consider himself a member of the community. After the sudden death of his beloved wife leaves him a widower at the age of 39, he retreats inward. Bitter and cynical, Fikry is also a literary snob, refusing to shelf just any old book. At Island Books, where “No Man is An Island; Every Book is a World” he will only stock books he wants to read:

“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 do not like genre mash-ups à 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.”

No shock but Fikry doesn’t have many customers or friends, and in the first chapter things go from bad to worse when he realizes his prize possession, a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane has disappeared. As one beloved possession disappears, something new appears, popping up in the sparsely-stocked children’s section of the bookstore and changing Fikry’s life forever. Like the characters in his beloved books, this unexpected package causes his life to twist in a strange, new direction. Soon, his lonely bookshop is packed with locals, kids and *gasp* a crime novel book club.

This is a short book, but brimming with heart and sugary sweetness.  Even when the plot is formulaic-Grumpy Widower finds love, the typical Stars Hollow-esqe cast of small town characters- the book skates by on its easy charm. Part of that charm is due to this book’s giddy love for the written word. Fikry doesn’t just sell books; he lives them. Every experience he has, everything he perceives, can be compared to a book he once read. And when he’s not selling books, he’s thinking of them. It’s no accident that one of the first major character’s we meet is a publisher’s rep.

Look this book isn’t a game-changer. You’re not scouring the book for clues. There are no twists that will blow you away. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is just a feel-good book, a sweet world to envelop yourself in for a few hours. And sometimes that’s all you need.


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