Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: : A book for book people

I love books more than I should.  I love the way they smell. I love the way they feel.  I love when I get to a point in a book where I don't want to stop reading, and I don't even remember turning the pages until I am at the very last page.  I love when I meet characters who speak my world and my truth.  I love reading real stories of real people who have overcome incredible hurdles.  And, of course, I love bookstores.  I mourned the day that Borders closed in York, Pa, even though my favorite bookstores are the small ones run by independent store owners who just love books.  When e-readers became the rave, I held fast to my tangible books with pages and covers.  There is something about the weight of a real book in my hands - the weight of it, the protection of it, that makes me feel more alive. When I lived in London, I got into the habit of always having a book tucked under my arm no matter where I went, that way I would never feel alone.  Reading books helps me feel more connected - way more than Facebook, or any type of social media ever could.

I am not alone in my passion for books, and when I find a book that is really written for book people but in an unpretentious, unassuming way, I want to rave about it. I passed by "The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin in the Hot Picks section of the Crystal Lake library several times before picking it up and reading the book jacket which said, "an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love." Yes, please.  I want to read a book that has all of that wonderful-ness inside of it.

The story starts with A.J. Fikry, a contentious, recent, young widower who own Island Book Store on the tiny Massachusetts, Alice Island.  After his wife dies in a tragic car accident when she is two months pregnant, Fikry spirals into a depression, drinking himself into isolation and rage.  He pushes away his sister in law, Ismay, who wants to pick him up and set him straight, and the very friendly Chief Lambiase who seems genuinely concerned for Fikry's well-being.  He is rude to everyone including his customers, employees, and even the very hopeful and persistent Knightley Press sales rep, Amelia Loman.  Everything changes when shortly after losing his prized possession, Tamerlane (a rare and valuable collection of Edgar Allen Poe poems), he gets a special package delivered to his store and he decides to keep it (or should I say to keep her).  Fikry's icy exterior melts the day baby Maya comes into his world and he decides to raise her as his own and eventually adopt her.

The short novel weaves its magic through the power of book people coming together in a decade long span of love, loss and redemption, not to mention some powerful statements about the beauty of reading and the meaning of our lives. By the end of the novel these statements increase as Fikry tries to articulate what he is not able to for Maya.  He says, "We read to know we're not alone.  We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.  We are not alone."  Fikry finds love, but he finds more than that, he finds a family and a new revitalization of his book store.  He comes to the realization, "We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read.  We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved.  The people we loved.  And these, I think really do live on."

Zevin, a seasoned YA writer,  presents a few twists and turns in her first adult fiction book, but each rings with believability. She paces the book brilliantly and even though it spans a decade, it feels like life - it's over before you know it.  For the book people out there, who just like Lambiase discovers and Zevin believes (as she stated in an interview with NPR) - everyone is a book person, you just need to find the right book, who like paper and how books feel in their back pockets, too, this is a book for you.

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