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review 2017-06-20 15:10
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry ★★☆☆☆
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

I sort of liked this book, until the 88% mark, at which the narrative took a turn that I found unredeemably distasteful. Until then, my thoughts about the book: This is a mildly interesting, if a little maudlin, romance about a grumpy lover of literary fiction (AJ) who is saved by love for the amazingly well-behaved and highly intelligent orphan (Maya) and the quirky bookseller (Amy). There’s an obvious bad guy caricature in the successful author (Daniel), who is a womanizing drunk, and his long-suffering and understandably bitter wife (Ismay) is AJ’s dead wife’s sister. The entire book (even the essay penned by one of the characters) is written in present tense, which serves no purpose other than to annoy me, but at least it’s in third person. None of the plot twists or big reveals were especially clever or surprising. Altogether, a three-star read, even with the long, drawn-out drama of the final chapters, which I suppose are meant to have the reader going through boxes of kleenexes. Or pressed linen handkerchiefs, given the fondness for vintage clothes.

 

I’m burying the part that dropped this into the 2 star range for me under spoiler tags: 

The backstory of what happened to Maya’s mother. Not that she was a fan of Daniel’s writing, or that they slept together and she got pregnant, or that he refused to acknowledge any responsibility for it, or that he never seemed concerned about her or his daughter. That’s just the tired old trope that goes along with his womanizing drunken author caricature. It was the dismissive way the narrative treated her. First the slut-shaming, that “she knew what she was doing” in sleeping with a married man, then excusing Ismay’s culpability in her death as it was understandably painful that she had to deal with the slut asking for money for her husband’s bastard child, when his own wife kept miscarrying and was cash-poor because all her money was invested in their fancy house. So Ismay steals a valuable book from AJ, then knowingly puts the young woman at risk of criminal charges by giving her unsellable stolen property to sell. Then she just shrugs and tells her to get lost when the girl finds out. So she (rightly) feels guilty that the desperate young woman committed suicide and her orphaned child was left in a bookstore, but then is absolved with the logic of, oh, well, it turned out for the best, since Maya had a pretty good life being raised by AJ instead of her own mother, and is credited for “saving” AJ’s life by giving him a reason to stop being a self-pitying drunk. “The End”, as far as the dead husband-thieving slut is concerned. Then we get another 50 minutes of glurge where AJ sells the book that contributed to Maya’s mother’s death, so he has the money to cover medical treatment, then rambles on about life and love and lessons for his daughter while he’s dying. Maya never finds out the true story of her mother, because it’s better to conceal her godmother’s selfish cruelty than for her to know something of the woman who birthed her and tried her best to care for her for the first two years of her life. Because it all turned out for the best, right?

(spoiler show)

 

Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. Scott Brick gives a fine performance. I picked this book up on the recommendation of a co-worker, who loved it.

 

Previous Updates:

 

6/19/17 52% http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1572298/the-storied-life-of-aj-fikry-52

 

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text 2017-06-19 14:33
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry: 52%
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

The dating scenes are kind of funny, but he's so mismatched with them that it's pretty implausible that there would be subsequent dates with the same women, let alone sex. 

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text 2017-04-25 02:50
Just OK
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

This book was interesting enough to finish, but I didn't like the ending.

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review 2017-04-25 02:48
Just OK
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

This book was interesting enough to finish, and had a couple of exciting surprises, but it didn't hit the spot for me.

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review 2017-01-02 13:08
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

I was watching a YouTube vlogger sum up their top books of 2016 and this was on the list. When I went and checked it out the blurb attracted me so much that I started it as soon as I could. Here it is:

 

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. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love

 

This book had so much that I look for from a book; a cast of diverse characters that I can relate to, an exploration of multiple themes all interwoven around a satisfying plot. Because the book was set in a bookstore there was also the added bonus of numerous book references, not to mention the chapters that were named after a famous short story. Sometimes I don’t like it when a book tries to over-identify with the reader by using this tactic, it can feel gimmicky and forced, but it worked here, perhaps because of the way it tied in so perfectly with latter stage events.

 

While exploring themes such as loneliness, relationships, life and death, there was a strong sense of irony and contradiction running through the narrative which gave it an extra layer of dexterity.

 

The characters were diverse and separate from one another, following their own evolution. This was one of the elements that made the book so satisfying, so many stories within a story. A. J, the protagonist was cynical and set in his ways, abhorring e-readers and internet shopping which he felt might impact the role of bricks-and-mortar shops like his. But at the same time he was also loveable and wise, a character who I formed a deep appreciation of.

 

This book was more than just the themes it explored, it was about the importance a bookstore can and does play in people’s lives and how it can shape their future.

 

A heart-warming book that the perfect end to my reading year.

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