Friday, June 26, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin & the New York Public Library's Outdoor Reading Room (5th Ave & 40th St)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • ISBN-10: 1616204516 - Paperback $14.95
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (December 2, 2014), 288 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher AND the NYPL's Outdoor Reading Room. 

The blurb:
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. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikryis an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

I spent much of yesterday afternoon reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry on a lounge chair in front of the NY Public Library in the new Summer Outdoor Reading Room.  Weather permitting, the Outdoor Reading Room is open daily (except Sundays) from 10 am - 7 pm.  The NYPL's Outdoor Reading Room  by the lions at the Stephen Schwartzman research library on 5th Avenue, is a quiet oasis in Midtown.  Most people were reading.  #ireadeverywhere 
I do remember hearing a young girl bargaining with her mother - she was willing to leave after two more books and if they could come back the next day. 

Now is as good time as any to spread the word that thanks to an anonymous donor, donations to the NYPL will be matched dollar for dollar  from today until July 10 all donations to the NYPL will be matched by an anonymous donor.  


Back to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  It's a book that I'd wanted to read for some time.  The young sales agent of a fictional publishing house visits A.J. Fikry's bookstore, a small account on an island in New England.  The first meeting doesn't go well.  Fikry's gruff and rude,  upset at the news that the previous sales agent had died.  Amelia's warm recommendation of a memoir written by an elderly widower is pushed aside.    Though Fikry later regrets his rudeness, it takes some time before he warms to the young Amelia and before he revisits the book.   Fikry noticed that she was both attractive and not particularly stylish - think 90s style - and regrets his rudeness.  

Fikry's small bookshop barely breaks even but he does have a valuable and rare Edgar Allen Poe first edition which is stolen.  Fikry stops locking his store door after the rare edition disappears. One day soon after he finds an infant left in his care.  The mother leaves a note explaining her decision and asking him to care for young Mia.  

Against all odds, Fikry finds that caring for Mia suits him.  The love and close friendship between Fikry and Mia is made the book stand out for me.  Mia grows up in the bookstore, loving books, developing her way of analyzing them even before she can read.  Mia lives and breathes books, not surprisingly she starts writing as well.  Mia's presence proves a gift in more ways than one.  Fikry becomes less isolated - the neighbors come into his shop to see Mia and they often chat and leave with a book or two.  Slowly, Fikry and Mia work their magic and build a community around the bookshop.  I found myself wishing I could drop by their bookshop and, failing that, wanting to become a regular at my neighborhood bookstore. 

Overall, The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry is a tribute to books and reading, a story of love and hope and friendship.  I read the entire book while at the Outdoor Reading Room and the experience reminded me of the many things that I love about NYC.

About the Author:
Gabrielle Zevin is the author of eight novels, including Elsewhere and most recently,The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which is a New York Times Best Seller.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this one too. Like you, I really wanted to hang out in the bookstore :)