Summer comes to a screeching halt for many of the kids in Nashville tomorrow, but it doesn’t have to come to an end for you! It’s still in the 90’s, for heavens sake. Turn up the AC and turn off your phone for a sweet, fast read of summer – The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin.
A.J. Fikry is a widowed bookseller on Alice Island – a bit grumpy and opinionated, but nonetheless a dear soul. You can just picture Island Books, a quirky little bookstore in a Victorian cottage catering to tourists in the summer and locals the rest of the year. A.J. lives in the attic above, profoundly lonely. When a young woman leaves a baby in the store and subsequently disappears for good, A.J. must make a choice that will change his life forever.
Every good beach read is a romance as well, of course! A.J. finds new sales rep Amelia too tall and too opinionated, but over time – and conversations about books – the sparks fly. When he first visits her at her home, he observes that:
Amelia’s house is cluttered but clean. She has a purple velvet couch, a smallish grand piano, a dining room table that seats twelve, many framed pictures of her friends and family, several houseplants in various states of health, a one-eyed tabby cat named Puddleglum, and of course, books everywhere. Her house smells like what she’s cooking, which turns out to be lasagna and garlic bread… “Your place is just like you,” he says.
“Cluttered, mismatched,” she says.
“Eclectic, charming.” He clears his throat and tries not to feel unbearably corny.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry welcomes you into a very small world, one with books at its center. Each chapter begins with a passage from a well-known book or author such as Charlotte’s Web or Mark Twain. The characters regularly talk about what they’re reading. I was completely charmed by Police Chief Lambiase – A.J.’s closest friend – who starts a police department book club to read crime novels. “Years ago, Lambiase had had to institute a ‘leave our weapons’ policy after a young cop had pulled a gun on another cop during a particularly heated discussion of The House of Sand and Fog.” This line is played for laughs, but Gabrielle Zevin understands throughout how deeply a book can affect you.
You can probably already tell if this book is not for you. It moves along at breakneck speed and things tend to work out as they should. It occupies a somewhat curious space between believable and fairy tale.
Be warned that the ending is happy-ish. On the sweet side of bitter. The ending doesn’t betray the book in any way or compromise its light-hearted enjoyment. But it might make you cry. Maybe all the great books do?