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

9780349141077Life has been a bit bananas of late and even reading has fallen by the wayside a bit. Perhaps that’s why I had to write about this one – I’m jumping straight in there and saying I loved The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. If warm fuzzy socks and a mug of hot chocolate could assume book form it would be this. It’s sweet and kind and uplifting and heartwarming, and it is such a homage to books and bookstores and the joys of reading that I can’t imagine any reader not liking it…. Other than perhaps bookclubs and booksellers who feel they have been shamelessly pandered to by the writer, which they kinda have, but I forgive her!

It’s also one of the most quotable books I’ve read in years:
“We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on”
“The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.”
“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.”

The eponymous A.J. Fikry is quite the curmudgeon when we first meet him – but he’s had a rough time of it recently. The owner of Island Books, where “No Man is an Island, Every Book is a World”, he is recently widowed and drinking himself to an early grave. His beloved bookstore is barely making ends meet and his prize possession – a rare edition of Poe – has been stolen. Even his  books aren’t bringing him any joy – and to make things worse the rep from his favourite publishing house has died and he has to contend with the quirky new rep coming into his store and trying to get him to read outside his comfort zone. For reasons that become clear later, someone abandons a precocious toddler in his store. And everything changes…

I’m not going to go into the plot too much here, although it expands outwards from Fikry in the way you would expect a feelgood read to. We see characters prosper, grow and evolve – shout out to Lambiase, the police chief who ends up starting a crime book club that I would love to join; and Amelia of the varied hued nail-polish. And yes, these characters are often archetypes, but not distractingly so. In many ways, this whole book is a character sketch of Fikry – and while he’s not the most likable character in the world he is interesting, engaging and sometimes challenging. Fikry lives through books – he filters life experiences through references to books and to reading. He’s well-read and opinionated, and references a broad range of titles for various reasons. There’s a list below of the works referenced throughout the book, which would make for a fantastic reading challenge.

Anyone who has ever put down a book to stare into space as you process the beauty of a sentence you have just read; anyone who has felt changed by a book; anyone who has ever felt that books had your back when no one else did – this is for you. If you love reading, you have to read this.

The stories referenced in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

A Conversation with My Father by Grace Paley
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Brownies by Z.Z. Packer
Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff
Caligula by Anthony A. Barrett
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
Fat by Raymond Carver
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel
Indian Camp by Ernest Hemingway
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Ironhead by Aimee Bender
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Song of Soloman by Toni Morrison
Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by Matthew Tobin Anderson
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Beauties by Anton Chekov
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Bookseller by Roald Dahl
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Luck of Roaring Camp by Bret Harte
The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
What Feels Like the World by Richard Bausch
What We Talk about When We Talk about Love by Raymond Carver
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Other authors mentioned: Maeve Binchy, Jo Nesbø, Elmore Leonard, Jeffery Deaver, James Patterson, Walter Mosely, and Cormac McCarthy





5 thoughts on “The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry- Book Review

  1. JQ

    Finished that last night with a smile on my face, a very sweet read. Favourite quote was “The words you can’t find, you borrow”.

    I can definitely see a new procedural detective show being developed based on the police force’s crime book club. Every episode would start with them getting that month’s book and then a local crime would happen with lots of parallels and lessons to draw upon and inform their discussion on the book. And eventually then you’d get a crazy who’d find out what they’re reading and carry out the same crime as the book. It’d be brilliant!

    Shall be looking out for further recommendations Cathy, the pressure is on! 🙂

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