It’s no secret that I love books. They are a huge part of who I am, not just because I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life, but because I’ve been fortunate enough to build my professional life around books as well. Working in a library and in a bookstore means that I am surrounded by people who also love books – a pretty great way to spend your day, actually. Several months ago I professed my love for The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, and for how it was truly a book for book lovers. Happily, April 1st is release day, so I’ve chosen it as my inaugural post for Hank Green’s latest internet ‘thing’, Reviewsday Tuesday!
First, here’s the blurb in case you’ve missed all of the hype:
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.
Why Should I Read This?
This is a book about a person who has lost his sense of who he is, and the potential for what he is capable of being for others. AJ Fikry is lost, and can’t find his way back to being whole again, until a chance event changes everything. Using books and his discussions about how and why they have made an impact on his life, Fikry rediscovers who he is, and how he can make a difference. Sounds a bit twee, right? Yeah, it’s not.
One of the unexpected pleasures of this book has been the discussions that have resulted from reading it and passing it on. Within our bookstore, we have had numerous conversations about what books might make our list – after all, as Fikry says, “My life is in these books… Read these and know my heart”. It’s a pretty huge statement, when you think about it. If you were given a list of ten books – no more, no less – and asked to describe your life by these books, what might make your list?
For some, there are childhood classics that evoke memories of parents long gone, or of children now grown. For others, it was the transformative power of great and classic literature – Origin of the Species, Black Beauty, and others. Another argued for the power of fantasy and science fiction to remove us from our current world and to encourage us to think of the possible, not the impossible. These conversations have grown from in-store debates to breakfast conversations, into dinner party themes and even into a series of written letters (paper, not email) across the ocean. How wonderful to know that, in a time when electronic media is such an integral part of our lives, books still resonate so deeply within our being!
Ultimately, this book is a love letter to people who love books in all forms. It reminds us that there is power in books and in our interpretation of what we read, and that we can’t ever minimize the importance that reading plays in the development of the human psyche. As Emerson said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” With so many wonderful books still to devour, enjoy the feast, my friends.
Give me a Quote to Convince Me
If the one above doesn’t convince you, then I’ll use another. I’ve used this one before, but I think it’s still so true. As a bookseller, I believe in this quote 100%, and mourn the loss of each indie bookstore that has the power to inspire this kind of feeling (fare thee well, The Cookbook Store, The World’s Biggest Bookstore and Book City-Annex in Toronto!).
“People are attached to their bookstores… It matters 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.”
The legal stuff: I am a bookseller, and I was given an advance copy to read. In fact, if you are in Canada, my blurb may be found on the praise page of your edition. However, I was not compensated for my review or my endorsement, with the exception of an invitation to attend a rather fun evening at a bookshop with the author. It is available for purchase from many fine booksellers … but considering the nature of the book, I urge you to support your indie booksellers and to purchase this book from them.