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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What I’m Reading: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

I was first alerted to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin in the April 2014 Library Reads list, as this novel was the #1 Librarian pick for the month.  Here is the quote chosen to book talk the novel:
“A middle-aged bookseller mourning his lost wife, a feisty publisher’s rep, and a charmingly precocious abandoned child come together on a small island off the New England coast in this utterly delightful novel of love and second chances.” 
Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY
Since it is about books, book selling, and book lovers, I was intrigued.  And while I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, it was not all that I expected going in.  This is not a “literary” novel.  It is a gentle, non-religious inspirational read (unless you consider book loving a religion, which some readers may).

I can actually best describe why you would enjoy it by saying it is Nicholas Sparks meets The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This book is all about its highly inspirational message with books and a love of reading providing the inspiration, but it also has the Sparks-esque love lost and then found but with bittersweet results storyline in there too. (Note the past tense of “storied” in the title).

Think this captures who will love this book and what you can expect from it, but here is a bit more appeal detail.

This is a character centered story, with most, but not all, of the focus on Fikry. It is a short novel that is well paced.  Each chapter begins with a note from Fikry to his daughter about a specific book and why it has meaning to him. This not only frames each chapter, but keeps the book moving at a compelling pace as you want to see how this excerpt from Fikry’s journals fits into what we will read next.

The small town setting with a fun cast of supporting characters makes this an engaging read too. But beyond some discussions on the merits of different books or writers, and an interesting side story about how marketing affects the book’s reception this is not meant to be a “deep” book.  Zevin’s novel is a fun, beach read for the book loving set.

I think the marketing on this book unfairly gave it more “depth” and too much of a literary fiction vibe.  If I had not read Zevin’s novel for myself, I would have handed it to my literary fiction fans, when really it should go to Nicholas Sparks fans who want a book frame-- a huge audience who will love this novel, by the way.

This is a short read that someone could curl up with in a hammock or by the pool and finish in a  sitting or two.  It is satisfying and nice.  It will inspire you to live your life to the fullest. But all of its “meaning” is clearly up front which is not a bad thing to throw into the mix now and again.

Three Words That Describe This Book: books about book, bittersweet, non-religious inspirational

Readalikes: The first 2 books I thought of as perfect readalikes for The Storied Life of AJ Fikry were The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (mentioned above) and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, both of which I have read (links go to longer reviews).  And, when I went to Novelist to look for more readalike ideas, I was heartened to see these are 2 of the first 3 suggested titles there too. Click on the links for each title above to see more readalike options.

Another title NoveList suggests, but I think is a bit more on the literary side, is The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai.  Here you will find a relationship based on a shared love of books between a librarian and a ten-year old boy who is living in a strict fundamentalist household. I would suggest The Borrower if you thought Zevin’s novel was nice but wanted a bit more substance.

I also mentioned Nicholas Sparks above and I think if you are a fan of his work, you will love this story (even though ironically, Fikry himself would hate to see me comparing his life story to Sparks as he was a bit of a literary snob). But the overwhelming tone of this book is moving and bittersweet. With the storyline of a widower, paralyzed by depression, finding happiness again by adopting a child and finding new love plus a very Sparks friendly resolution (again focus on the bittersweet here), you have the makings of a book centric Sparks-esque novel. And I am not disparaging Sparks here at all.  The man is a brilliant story teller who has managed to capture the attention of millions of readers.  He is one of the few authors whose books are often all checked out at once at my library-- all by different readers from all ages and walks of life.  That is an amazing feat.

Finally, I found similarities here to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (link goes to my review).  Again we have a bittersweet story with a book about books frame.  Green’s story is a YA books that can be enjoyed by adults, while Zevin’s novel is for adults but could also be enjoyed by older teens.  There is nothing inappropriate in the book at all, but I question if younger teens would have interest in a story about a 30 year old widower who adopts an abandoned baby.

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