In 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.
I stopped giving ratings on Goodreads a while back. I wanted half stars. I wanted some sort of algorithm to help me decide how many stars to give a book. In other words the rating system just didn’t work for me.
But when I finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry I couldn’t wait to zoom over to Goodreads and give it 5 giant stars.
I know I’ll be re-reading this gem at some point. As soon as I was done with it I regretted not wielding a highlighter and marking up the whole thing. (Even though that is totally against my book rules!)
A.J. is such a fantastic character. Even at his grumpiest he says things that ring so true that all you can do is nod and agree:
“How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magical realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be – basically gimmicks of any kin. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful – nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a 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. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series but the demands of my pocketbook require me to. For your part, Ms. Loman, I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter how many copies you promise I’ll sell on Mother’s Day.”
Gabrielle Zevin has written a story that every book lover will revel in. It’s quirky, hilarious, touching, and I was delighted with the sheer bookishness. You will be too.