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January 18, 2015

“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry”

by Anne Paddock

A question I’ve thought about a great deal is why it is so much easier to write about the things we dislike/hate/acknowledge to be flawed than the things we love.

In The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, author Gabrielle Zevin introduces A.J. Fikry, a 39-year old grumpy man whose pleasures in life are few. Recently widowed, A.J. finds himself running Island Books, a 700 square foot independent bookstore in a purple Victorian house on Alice Island, off the Massachusetts coastline (seems vaguely familiar to Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard), without the warm touch of his wife, Nic, who was killed in a  tragic car accident (is there any other kind?).

The Storied Life of AJ FikryDrowning himself in his sorrows with wine every night, A.J. laments the future of Island Books – a bookstore dedicated to literature and primarily dependent upon the summer tourists who come looking for a good read. After a drunken stupor, A.J. wakes up one morning to find his most prized possession  – a first edition original copy of a rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe called Tamerlane – stolen from the apartment he lives in above the bookstore. To complicate his life further, a small child is abandoned at Island Books which takes A.J. Fikry down a road he never thought he would travel.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a sweet tale, a 260-page book that can be read in a few sittings. Divided into two parts, the book contains 13 chapters, each introduced with a brief discussion of a book and an author – similar to staff book review cards that hang from the shelves of bookstores. In these write-ups, A.J. Fikry is telling the reader why the book and/or the author is important in relation to his life – which is the greatest strength of the book.

I enjoy a book that is unpredictable but plausible so when I found myself reading a predictable and implausible story, I briefly thought of putting the book down and starting another. But, I didn’t. I could conceivably get past the “wasted time” spent reading 100 or so pages and cutting my losses, but decided to keep reading because the author ties books to the story…and in the heart of readers, books reign supreme. There is meaning in how the author correlates great works of literature to A.J. Fikry’s life and for that reason, I finished the book despite the structural deficiencies.

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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