Worth A Read: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin


The BUZZ: #1 Pick of American Booksellers Assoc., 2014. After the last four downer books I read, I was desperately seeking a story about caring, thoughtful people who at least try to do the right thing.

The GIST: Thirty-nine year old A.J. Fikry owns the bookstore housed in the purple Victorian on Main Street, Alice Island. A tragic accident has taken the life of his beloved wife, leaving him lonely and grumpy. Island Books is not faring well either, although he curates it properly with his fierce devotion to literature. When a smart, adorable toddler is left there by her despondent mother, Fikry is yanked out of his despair. The small town rallies to raise Maya, filling in the gaps that the cantankerous bookseller presents. Relationships and connections blossom and grow around the bookstore and the unlikely family occupying it. A publisher’s agent, the local police officer, teachers, authors and book club members populate the pages with their stories, which end up relating to one another in surprising ways. Their lives are messy and sometimes tragic, but the bookstore nourishes them all with substance and meaning.

The WRITING: Clever, funny, enchanting. The dialogue (it’s so difficult to write great dialogue!) is how we get to know these characters. Their many voices are perfectly distinct and resonant. Fikry’s life is saturated by books, and his love for them is outweighed only by his love for Maya. Her childhood in the bookstore shapes her into a writer, and we watch that process with delight. Each chapter begins with a book recommendation by Fikry, which I thought were for his store, but turn out to be something much more poignant. The author is obviously a devotee of books and the neighborhood bookstore. She creates a world in which we can’t challenge the value of either, and don’t want to imagine a future without them both. Zevin combines comedy, mystery and romance in her tale of our attachments – to books and stories, to the people we love, and the tribes we create to foster them.

BUY or BORROW?: Buy it from your local small bookstore! Zevin’s clean writing makes for a quick read, but it’s filled with such enjoyable dialogue and characters, even the sad parts are worth a second pass. If you have a favorite small bookstore that is dear to you, or you adore them all like I do, this story deserves a spot on your shelf.

QUOTE: “People tell boring lies about politics, God and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”

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