Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Originally published: 2014
This is a top shelf book.
A.J. Fikry has become a sort of hero for me in the two weeks since I finished The Storied Life. I picked the book up as something to pass the time but not as something meant to make me think – more a nice story to carry me through until I found something a little more substantial. I certainly wish I had prepared myself better for meeting Mr. Fikry and all of those involved in his tale. I would have been much more welcoming and much less blindsided by the beauty within those pages.
Fikry’s life has fallen to pieces: a failing bookstore, a dead (pregnant) wife, his rarest and most expensive copy of Poe work, Tamerlane, stolen from his own kitchen, and a nasty attitude to top it all off. He is loveable in the way eighty year old grumpy men are loveable, not in the way middle-aged men should be. Ah, but the delivery of a new book seller from a publishing house and another special package in his bookstore change everything one day.
Yes, it sounds contrived. If you had given me the synopsis of this story before I had read it I likely would have ignored it completely. I am not inclined to read stories that involve high amounts of personal drama, especially that which seems overblown and unnecessary, and I certainly don’t like any plotline that involves too much stuff. Somehow Zevin pulls it off, though, tastefully and artfully, as if she was writing with a wry smile, knowing you would be doubting her the entire time.
I finished this book in hours. I could not put it down. I did not want to be interrupted and I did not want to veer from its pages. There are very few novels I have read more than once and this one sits permanently on my shelf, waiting to be read again. So much of this novel is done right that it is hard to even remotely do an unbiased review.
The love stories, the family stories, and the grief stories are told with elegance, Zevin using a light hand and a certain amount of brevity in her writing. She is emotional where needed and reserved elsewhere. She approaches themes of loss, love, companionship, parenthood, and coping with honesty and maturity. She makes you know these characters, she forces you to let them in to your home, and she makes it really difficult to say goodbye.
But what everyone really needs to know about this book, above all else, is that it really is a book about books. It is a book about how bookstores have changed, how reading has changed, how popular titles can be dismissed but can hold unexpected weight, how the internet has altered how we receive our reading material. It is laced with literary references and amazing snippets of conversations about the life of a book seller (“You do know I can get this way cheaper online, right?”). If you have ever worked in a bookstore or have spent more time in a bookstore than you could recall – read this book. You’ll understand it thoroughly. If you love books and stories and everything they can give to a person – read this book. You’ll love it more than you’ve ever expected.
There is nothing better than a book. There is nothing better than a book that connects with you somewhere deep down and stays with you long after it’s finished. And there is nothing better than a book that stands up for all other books and begs you to take them seriously.