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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: Ode To Bookstores and Book People

In Gabrielle Zevin's popular novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, our eponymous protagonist is a cantankerous indie bookstore owner on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. In the first scene of the novel, we see him at his lowest: Being a total jerk to a sales rep from a small publishing house. She's new to the job, and has had the gall to pitch him a touchy-feely memoir, which is not at all to his taste. A.J.'s the kind of dude who isn't happy unless he's miserable — but it's not all his fault. His wife was killed in a car wreck, and now, his valuable Edgar Allen Poe manuscript has been stolen.

That's a pretty heavy start to what actually turns into a terrific, light, feel-good novel that reads like an ode to books, bookstores, and book people. There's plenty of bookish Easter eggs sprinkled throughout — an argument about Infinite Jest, a woman who wants a refund for The Book Thief because she doesn't like a novel narrated by Death, and several descriptions of A.J.'s favorite short stories.

Indeed, near the end of the novel, A.J. describes a Roald Dahl story titled "The Bookseller" as a "bonbon" — and that's exactly what this novel is. A short, sweet serving of a story about books and the people who love them. There also is a mystery, some infidelity, car crashes, and a child named Maya whose parentage is of some dispute. But those parts are really just the decorations.

It's a novel that falls just barely on the right side of precious. In fact, if you're in a bad mood when you read, you might be tempted to be cynical and call it too fluffy. But read it in a good mood, and you'll be delighted, I think.

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