Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gabrielle Zevin - The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

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.

Comment: This book wasn't in my plans but after seeing it was the book chosen to be read at one of my book clubs, I checked the blurb and thought to myself I'd probably would like to read it, even more so after getting the idea it might have a romance in there as well. I immediately got the ebook and started reading a few days later. While my final opinion isn't what I expected of it, I still think it was a good book to have been read.

In this book, we follow the life of AJ Fikry, a bookstore owner in Alice island who rarely pays attention to anything but his own taste in books. However, things change when two things happen to him and he has to make drastic changes in his life. As time passes by, AJ starts feeling alive again and realizing what surrounds him and what others might be feeling matters too, because despite him living in a island, he isn't one himself.

I have a sort of mixed feeling about a certain aspect of this story. I liked everything about it except the reason why it ended the way it did. I mean, I can accept the idea that drama makes it easier for people to feel things more or that it can intensify the story or the reaction to it, but after such a great story about living again about respecting books and opinions, why did things have to end like they did... the book's content wasn't superfluous or easy to imagine if it was real. Why like that except to intensify a story that had already provided more than enough situations to make he reader think and come to an opinion? I can't understand that nor why the end felt a bit abrupt, after such a consciously written story.

Apart from my personal preferences and questions, I do have to say the story is very good. It's divided onto two parts and it's written in a fast paced style, featuring eclectic characters whose personalities we sure can associate with their reading habits, something that happens throughout the book.
I think diversity in reading is something to cheer on and the fact we can have this story where so many people talk about books and their reactions to them is wonderful. Like the example of the character who hated a book because it made her cry and isn't that a review on it's own? Really liked to see the books and love for books and conversations about them and lives molded because of books in this story.

AJ Fikry is a fascinating character. He only sees books, he defends his taste to the end of an argument and only after life changing events does he relax and starts being more sociable. I liked him and his thought processes and his love for books. 
The characters that surround them all have a little special something and each one addresses a situation that we see all the time in reality but in this story has a new take because of the way books have an important role. I liked how the author mixed characterization and books that way.

Maya is a fascinating character. In the second part, she writes a short story that, considering the context, was fascinating and like a rock to one's heart because of its heartbreaking simplicity. Despite that, or because of that I should say, I can't understand why the book had to end the way it did. It's all mostly explained but it didn't feel right for me. We all see different things in the same books, so I can accept it as my own issue, but still...

I know other readers will probably speak about it much better than I did, but for me, after all things considered, it was an amazing story that could have ended better.
But the author's work in creating the characters, the situations and the constant book related issues was well done and for that alone I might try something else by her one day.
Grade: 7/10


  1. S., I think you explain the reasons behind your disappointment quite clearly! You know we have differing views on the book, but I can appreciate your disappointment. Unfortunately, fiction (literary fiction at least) writers seldom choose the predictable or preferred ending. It can be frustrating for readers (like us) who prefer a happier solution.

    1. I understand that. But where's the rule fiction has to be dramatic...I still liked the story, but the end seemed so....undeserved after what happened. I should stop wanting to see happy endings everywhere....