spend a few delightful hours in this bookshop, with good book people

a review of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry owns a book shop in a small town, and a recurring episode in the novel is the book club hosted by the local police chief. In one playful exchange, the chief and the other participants disagree about a book, and Fikry’s response draws cheers from the book club. I caught myself laughing aloud. Not because the scene was hilarious, but because the characters in this book became my dear friends so quickly, and I was part of this light, silly moment.

The story centers around Fikry — who starts grumpy and grows less grumpy — and the people who come into his life. I read it in just a few days, because every time I picked up my phone, I wanted to see what would happen next. (Thank you, Kindle app!)

Here is an extended taste, from an early exchange between Fikry and a publishing company representative:

“How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be—basically, gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and—I imagine this goes without saying—vampires.”

I found this gem randomly, browsing online bookshelves. Late in the book, Fikry muses, “Why is any one book different from any other book? … We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.” I’m glad I took a chance. I was exhilarated.

The book is thoroughly delightful.

Here are a few other lines I enjoyed:

  • On embracing the unexpected: “She doesn’t want to become the kind of person who thinks that good news can only come from calls one was already expecting and callers one already knows.”
  • On expecting structure in life: “He doesn’t believe in random acts. He is a reader, and what he believes in is narrative construction. If a gun appears in act one, that gun had better go off by act three.”
  • On priming: “She was pretty and smart, which makes her death a tragedy. She was poor and black, which means people say they saw it coming.”
  • On getting to know people: “You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”
  • On empathy: “Empathy…is the hallmark of great writing.”
  • On book jackets: “Jackets are the redheaded stepchildren of book publishing. We blame them for everything.”
  • On blurbs: “Blurbs” are “the blood diamonds of publishing.”
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