Many, many books claim to be “for book lovers.” A lot of them feature characters who really love reading, or draw their themes from major works of literature, or treat books as characters themselves. But most of the books I’ve read that claim to be for book lovers have fallen short, just because your book mentions other books and/or takes place in a bookstore does not make it “a love letter to literature.”
A Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a book for book lovers.
A.J. Fikry runs the only bookstore on the tiny, New England island of Alice. He is a man of definitive tastes: in books, in art, and in people. Most things fall short of these standards. He recently lost his wife, but that’s not the reason he’s such a miserable person to be around, though it certainly didn’t help. When Amelia, the new Knightly Press sales rep assigned to his account, first comes to visit she discovers a surly man obstinately disinterested in anything she could have to sell him. Then one night, A.J. finds a baby left in his store after hours with a note from its mother saying to take care of her.
I wasn’t sure I was going to get into this book. Everyone around me has loved it so much, but fifty or so pages in I still wasn’t sure. A.J. Fikry is a very abrasive character, which is probably why the story starts from Amelia the sales rep’s point of view. The whole thing turned around for me when he discovers the baby. The story went from sad to amusing to incredibly uplifting. I can’t seem to find the words I need to describe what it was about this book that I liked so much.
Aside from being a heart-warming story full of wonderfully developed characters, this book is a fantastic glimpse into one aspect of the publishing industry that doesn’t get much love. Sale reps for publishing houses are generally people who love books and reading, but most importantly they love talking about books and reading. They convince the booksellers to stock certain books, though it’s the seller who gets ultimate say. I don’t think many people realize that it’s this relationship that is responsible for every time they’ve ever happened upon an important book in their local bookstore.
The book’s structure echos traditional linear narrative structure until the very end. The end of this book is what really sealed the deal for me. It ends where it began, with a new sales rep headed for his first meeting with a new account, excited about his job. But it’s not the type of circular narrative that gives the feeling of closure, instead there is a spectacular sense that the story will keep going for as long as there are books and people who love them.
So many feels were had during the reading of this book. Seriously. It’s just a little over 200 pages, and once you get into the story it flies by. It’s a fantastic summer read.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry