Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Have I Read Lately? The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This January I'm basically catching up by reading books from my "most wanted" list in 2014. Some of these books were on my TBR, others are recent recommendations from friends. As far as Fiction/Non Fiction go, from my TBR, I read two books I've had in my Kindle since last year, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood by Richard Blanco, a creative non-fiction book that reads like a novel, and I just finished Everything I Never Told You, a contemporary fiction, debut novel by Celeste Ng. Right now I am reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, a book that falls under 'women's fiction' and promises to be a good read. I will come back with reviews or impressions on all of the books mentioned, but today I am concentrating on my first read of 2015.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin, April 2014)
"Why is anyone book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. 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 began the year by reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a contemporary fiction book recommended by Christine for our Internet Book Club. The main character, a book store owner and avid reader, loves literary short stories. He references books, titles, characters and plot to describe events occurring in his life. AJ was always an introvert but once he loses his wife in a tragic accident, he further isolates himself in a world of books. A literary snob, he only places value on specific literary works and refuses to read (or buy) anything else. Then, AJ's rare copy of an early book by Edgar Allan Poe is stolen and his plans for retirement are dashed. Luckily for AJ, a little girl comes into his life and everything changes, allowing him a second chance at life and love. "No man is an island." A.J. evolves, and as a result makes a big impact in other people's lives through love, his love of books, and the bookstore.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a multi-layered story. The author keeps the reader immersed by tying events occurring in the main character(s) lives through AJ's perspective as a reader -- AJ's critique of short stories, analysis of construction and writers' abilities, personal views on content (preferences and biases).
"Maya, novels certainly have their charms, but the most elegant creation in the prose universe is a short story. Master the short story and you'll have mastered the universe."
Each chapter begins with one page highlighting the title of a short story and a short critique by AJ which includes facts pertaining to his life at that very moment. I love how the author shows A.J.'s evolution as he builds a canon of short stories for his little girl that also serves as a guide to life.
"My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.
We are not quite novels.
The analogy he is looking for is almost there.
We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.
In the end, we are collected works."
The author touches on issues pertinent to the book world: critiquing, giving obscure or new books/authors a fair chance, ebooks v. print books, the disappearance of brick and mortar book stores, keeping a small, independent book store afloat, dealing with publisher representatives and their seasonal book catalogues. There is a twist to do with Maya that I did not see coming. Of course, looking back, all the clues were in place and waiting to be discovered, a few niggled at the time, but I missed them. AJ as the main character is indispensable but so are the secondary characters because without them there would not be a story to tell. There are little mysteries and twists, love stories and personality conflicts, resolution and absolution.

This is a beautiful book for book lovers. But this is the thing, Zevin takes all of that and integrates it into a story about life itself with all the messy "disappointments and exhilarating moments that make life beautiful now and again." Highly recommended.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Hilcia! I've waited to write my own comment about this book before reading your review and like you I loved the boo talking and the romance nuances. But the end....why? It didn't have to be that way to deliver the point...oh well...

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    Replies
    1. Sonia, I understand your dilemma. I see it from a different perspective. I believe there is a correlation between AJ's love of short stories and collections (see the quote above about life and collected works) -- their complete beauty, elegance and relevance to how the book ends. After all, length does not make a book better or life beautiful or well-lived, quality, happiness, and relevance can be found is the short format. (Life and book-wise). I believe that was part of the point. As you know, there is more to it.

      I personally liked the ending. To me, it represented a legacy and hope, and how things change and evolve. Life is not static, it moves on, but it is still heavily influenced by those who have been part of our lives.

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