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

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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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