Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

“A place is not truly a place without a bookstore.”                                                              Nicole Evans in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Perhaps it’s not coincidence that I read about the closure of a bookstore in Cannes, France, a few days after I finally feasted my eyes on The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. The novel, which revolves around a bookstore owner, a book publishing company’s sales rep and an orphan, left me wanting to pen a real book review for the first time since I graduated from high school more than 30 years ago.

Lack of practice, however, has rendered me rusty. So. Even though I wanted to write a traditional book review, I couldn’t.

“I like talking about books with people who like talking about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. I like how a new book smells, too…. A place ain’t a place without a bookstore, Izzie.”
                                                           Lambiase in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Anyway, when you’re a reader, you exist in two worlds: the nonfiction kind where the trivial and the urgent rule the significant, and the literary one where you hold imaginary conversations with the characters you’ve just read about. So here’s my take on a novel that made me

1  reflect on the foibles of fate that make life worth living
2  muse on how life consists of unexpected beginnings and sudden endings
3  wonder at how another gal in another continent found the exact words to capture how one feels about reading
4  fall in love again with an author (believe me, I have a friend who says she’ll marry Alexander McCall Smith – yup, that old doctor who writes! – in a heartbeat)
5  quietly tear up in the toilet (where I hid so my children can’t snort in disgust “Mom, it’s only a book!”)

Granted, A.J. Fikry would probably never have given an interview in his fictional life. But. In the spirit of A.J. Fikry, a very opinionated bookstore owner who looks at life situations compared to  their literary counterparts … just for once, let’s imagine ….

Interviewer:   Good morning, Mr. Fikry.
A.J. Fikry   :   Call me A.J.
Interviewer:  Tell me, why do you think your life story has a 4.5 rating from over 2,000 readers at Amazon?
A.J. Fikry   :  That one’s easy – people liked it and they told their friends and relatives who in turn told their friends and relatives.
Interviewer:  In short, it clicked.
A.J. Fikry:     Yup, many people found they could relate to it.
Interviewer:  Why do you think they were able to relate to it?
A.J. Fikry:      Do you like asking “Why” questions?
Interviewer:   Not really.
A.J. Fikry:      I’ll give you two reasons. Basically, Zevin’s book is about the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people when they connect through books and learn to love – in my case, at least – again.
Interviewer:   What’s the other reason?
A.J. Fikry:     There’s no other reason. I was just checking whether you were actually listening.
Interviewer:  That can’t be all, considering that there are hundreds of new novels in the romance genre.
A.J. Fikry:     I suspect a certain percentage of the female population have this romantic notion of connecting with their significant other via the written word. We are who we read and stuff like that. People disclose themselves by the things – or books – that they love and hate. Sometimes, also, you find that you have a lot in common with a person whom you dismissed at your first meeting.
Interviewer:  Okay, what do you love about Amelia Loman?
A.J. Fikry:      I’m still trying to figure that out. It couldn’t have been her looks, she doesn’t bother to dress up.
Interviewer:  Her love for books, perhaps?
A.J. Fikry:     Definitely her passion for books – remember, we both sell books for a living – and how she also views life through the prism of fiction.
Interviewer:  Just like you. What do you like about her now that you’re together.
A.J. Fikry:      Obviously – her sense of humor, her age. I don’t want to be accused of cradle snatching!
Interviewer:   Well,  adopting a baby may be loosely called cradle snatching.
A.J. Fikry:      Her intellect – I don’t want an obedient wife who can’t think for herself. Also, our life together –
Interviewer:  Which you had no idea would happen.
A.J. Fikry:     Exactly. Nobody who loses a wife ever says “Okay, I’m done, I can now look for another partner … you just tuck away the melancholy into a corner of your heart and go on with life.
Interviewer:  And read.
A.J. Fikry:     And read. Or host book clubs.
Interviewer:  How do you feel about people reading your life story on Kindle and other gadgets?
A.J. Fikry:     That’s their problem, not mine.
Interviewer:  Did you like how Gabrielle Zevin told your story?
A.J. Fikry:     What do you mean? Zevin told a compelling story, didn’t she? Even though most people dismiss it as an easy read, it’s not. Not many people get the link between the chapter prefaces and the story within. Did you?
Interviewer:  Ah, me? I must confess not.
A.J. Fikry:     See? How would you describe Zevin’s novel?
Interviewer:  I think it’s a heart-warming ode to the power of books, or words, on our lives.

The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.                                                                       Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

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