Those of you who know me know that I don’t participate in a lot of memes. It’s really rare for me to write a “Waiting on Wednesday” post, so when I do, you know that it’s going to be for something truly remarkable.
As regular readers are likely aware, I work in an independent bookstore – in fact, I run it, and I select all the books that go into it. I wrote to a friend (and publishing rep) recently that indie bookstores are curious places. They are quiet spots of refuge where bookish kids and teens blossom into bookish adults, crossing that invisible divide between teen pop culture and the mysterious world of literary fiction. They are a second home for others, the place where they reserve the paper and where they know that the latest copy of their favourite author’s work will already be reserved behind the counter. They are home to knitting clubs who talk town gossip as much as book plot lines but who also quietly choose books for the new grand baby in the group from the kitty on the table. They are the physical places where you select and collect your books, and where you return to each week because you feel like you are part of the community (because everyone eventually ends up at the bookstore). The titles on the shelves reflect the people who live in the town, and they are more diverse and interesting than can be believed.
I mention this only because I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Gabrielle Zevin‘s new adult novel, “The Storied Life of AJ Fikry“, a novel that won’t be published until April, 2014. I can’t say enough good things about this book – it has been described as a ‘love letter to books and booksellers’, and that’s exactly what it is.
When I started this book, it was 6 am on a Sunday morning, and I was in an airport lounge. I finished it on the plane, and immediately composed an email to send upon landing:
This book was a delight, from start to finish. The characters are charming and engaging and heartbreaking all at the same time. I know these people – they live in my tiny village – and I’ve had these conversations with patrons (and I laughed with delight so many times that a few people around me had to ask what I was reading). I also wept a little at the end; truly this book was a perfect read.
Zevin’s YA novels established her ability to write strong, complicated characters who get under the reader’s skin within a few chapters. A.J. and the people around him will do the same; they will slide unerringly into your heart and mind and you will not be able to let them go. If that doesn’t convince you, how about a quote? Nothing too spoiler-y – the story is too wonderful to spoil, but this quote sold me 100%:
“People are attached to their bookstores… It matter who placed A Wrinkle in Time in your twelve-year-old daughter’s nail-bitten fingers or who sold you that Let’s Go travel guide to Hawaii or who insisted that your aunt with the very particular tastes would surely adore Cloud Atlas.”
Mark this one on your calendars … this will be the book that booklovers will want to have on their bedside tables.
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island – from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.