The life of a bookseller is, as you might expect, not terribly exciting. There are books in all their forms: review copies, ARCs, old favorites, old non-favorites, stand-bys. The storied life of A. J. Fikry is peppered with the written word. But still, he isn’t happy. His wife died in a car wreck and only downing alcohol while dreaming of selling his prized and exceedingly rare book seems to dull the pain. But when the book is stolen A. J. Fikry is forced to start living again.
Obviously, I love to read. Not to the exclusion of anything else. Not to the exclusion, certainly, of everything else. I am not one of those people who claim that books are his/her life. Books aren’t mine.
But books – and more accurately, the stories they contain – do have a way of sorting out my life. And, like A. J. Fikry, I find “the things I respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things [I respond to] at 40 and vice versa.”
I think if this book found me at twenty I might have thought better of it.
Oh, don’t think I didn’t like the book; that I didn’t enjoy the book. I did like it. I did enjoy it. I read it within the space of a few days; picking it up and putting it down as life dictated and as it was convenient.
We are A. J. Fikry, I think. Maybe not a widower. Maybe not on the latter side of life. And probably not bookstore owners.
I hope we aren’t alcoholics.
But we all come back to our life from time to time and see that something is missing or needs correcting. We reassess. Make the corrections. Live on.
It’s part of the redemptive story. Our hearts keep seeking that which it’s made to seek – and to find – and is restless until it finds it.
We see this in Mr. Fikry. I know he says he doesn’t like God and has no use for religion. But that’s the just the author making sure we don’t try to take her story and apply it to human nature. It isn’t important what Fikry believes about religion. It’s not even important what Gabrielle Zevin believes about religion. What is important is the truth. And it has a funny way of sneaking into things and grabbing us, and making us pay attention.
And when you pick up The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, you pay attention. You are interested in the way A. J. Fikry sorts out his life through books.
Even when the plot contains quite a few characters who die off, conveniently. Even when the end concludes tidily. Even when everything happened “just so” resulting in everything else happening just right. Even when the book turns out to be a cancer story. Even when it’s Predictable; plodding.
But also, even when it is interesting and enjoyable. And The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry was that.
Because A. J. Fikry is redeemed of his bad behavior. And that redemption came through love in two places he never thought he’d find it. A child and a marriage.
If you haven’t read the book already, then it’s a good one to put on your summer reading list. Some people said that it exploded their reading list, but that wasn’t the case for me. Indeed, I have no interest in reading Proust. I wound up with only one author to explore more: Roald Dahl.
But reader beware: It is a book centered on books. And you may be the type to find A. J. Fikry’s book list compelling enough to grow that TBR pile like you’ve never seen it grow before.