Monday, April 28, 2014

'The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry'

Although I'm no longer a professional bookseller, I still love to read and recommend good books.  It's not often that I write a negative review, but there are some *cough* 'Fifty Shades...'*cough* that I cannot in good conscience recommend.

I'm attracted to stories that make many references to books and their authors (Jasper Fforde is a prime example), and bookstores.  Especially bookstores.  I can always tell if an author is a former bookseller; the references to the good/bad habits of their customers, the problems of merchandising, the problem of lackluster sales, the build-up to a signing event, only to see it either go down in flames, or exceed expectations.  And the after-hours drinking sessions.  All true.  

But, most of all, I'm interested in the interaction of the employees.  To read about a 'newbie' getting a job in a bookstore is somewhat amusing (I say 'somewhat' because I've been there, done that.  I wore high-heeled boots on my first day, and that is why I have hated them ever since), but reading about their sheer confusion is another thing.  I'm a huge fan of 'Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore'; it was amazing, and left a curious taste in my mouth.  But the employees.  What employees!  

And now we have 'The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry', written by Gabrielle Zevin, author of the phenomenal young adult book, 'Elsewhere'.  While 'Elsewhere' dealt with the afterlife of a teenager who is killed when a car hits her on the street, '...Fikry' is an adult book that deals with the despondency of a man who has lost his wife.  Lonely, cranky, hating his life, Fikry is in a slump.  His whole world has collapsed and his consuming isolation has many Alice Island residents concerned.

His bookstore, Island Books, is experiencing the worst sales slump in its history.  And to top it off, his rare, prized edition of Tamerlane has been stolen.  The loss, however, leads him kicking-and-screaming in a new direction.  He becomes friends with the chief of police, and he finds a connection with a book rep. But most of all, a strange package arrives in his store, setting off a chain of events that gives A. J. the opportunity to change his life for the better.

Zevin has created a love story to all things books and all things human.  She has opened the door to a world that I eagerly stepped into, a world peopled by characters so richly drawn. From Ismay, his sister-in-law, who tries to save A.J. from himself, while she, herself, is experiencing marital problems, to Amelia, the sales rep who makes him reconsider love.  

Author Gabrielle Zevin
And then there are the books.  The guy owns a bookstore, remember?  Each chapter begins with a brief synopsis and review of a particular piece of literature; 'Lamb to the Slaughter' by Roald Dahl, Poe's 'Tell Tale Heart', etc.  The reader knows that he's writing these for someone, but just who is that someone? Once you find out, you'll be delighted, yet somewhat saddened.

'The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry' richly deserves all of its positive reviews.  But that's not the reason I wanted to read it.

It's the books.  It will always be the books. Thanks, Ms. Zevin, for giving the world another wonderful story.

It looks quite nice sitting next to 'Elsewhere', snug on my bookshelf.

'The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry', by Gabrielle Zevin, is available at your library and independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-61620-3214

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