A few months ago, the library’s book club read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Now, I am not a member of that book club, but I do always like seeing what they’re reading and discussing the books with coworkers who are members. I remember this one being particularly popular; in addition, a short time later, a patron who belonged to the book club–Callie–also recommended the book to me and suggested I review it for the blog. (Thanks, Callie!) I ended up enjoying it and think it would appeal to most people who love reading and books.
Despite knowing that the book was popular, I actually didn’t know much about the plot of the book, other than the book is frequently described as heartwarming and it was about a cantankerous bookstore owner, the titular A.J. Fikry. He has a rigid list of requirements for liking a book that pretty much rules out any book most of us would ever read. So, I was pleasantly surprised by how funny the book was. A.J. is definitely prickly, but he also has a wonderful sense of humor and a knack for finding himself in humorously awkward situations.
I don’t really want to give too much of the plot away because I enjoyed not knowing what awaited me, but I think it’s fair to say that I had read a few chapters and thought, “Hey, A.J., your life is like Silas Marner’s!” Then, I saw a later reference to Silas Marner in the book and the author references modeling A.J. in part on Silas Marner in an interview in the back of the edition I read, so I now know that’s intentional. But I’ll just leave that as a veiled hint at the plot direction.
However, the plot really isn’t as important as the characters, and Gabrielle Zevin does a wonderful job of crafting interesting and likable but far from perfect characters for her story. Though A.J. is definitely the protagonist, he is far from the only character who Zevin’s narration spends time with, and the other main characters who are or become a part of A.J.’s life are equally as engaging.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the book, though, is that it is such an unabashed celebration of reading. Because of A.J.’s profession as a bookstore owner, books are an important part of his life, but they are also important for the other characters, as well. Even the chapters open with excerpts from A.J.’s (usually hilarious) shelf talkers about various books and stories. As a result, even if you disagree with the characters’ opinions about certain books–which is almost inevitable, given the wide range of books and opinions covered–The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry also offers its readers a lot ofthoughts on reading in general that most book lovers will agree with. I most enjoyed reading the parts that dealt with personal taste and the importance of finding books at the right moment because it made me think of conversations I’ve recently had in the comment section of the blog.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, though I didn’t find it perfect, either. Sometimes, I thought certain plot points happened too conveniently, and I also thought a lot of the dialogue from different characters sounded too similar to each other and occasionally not like authentic dialogue. However, I also thought those issues were pretty minor compared to the book’s strengths. Also, even though the book has no fantastical elements in it, it also isn’t aiming for hyperrealism, so in that sense, the plot points and dialogue made sense because I don’t think the writer was going for strict realism any more than she was going for a distinctly original, fantastical world.
Recommended especially for those who enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Little Paris Bookshop, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
Have you read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry? What were your thoughts on it? Are you interested in reading it now? Tell us in the comments!
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