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Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, written by Gabrielle Zevin. Viking, Penguin. 2014. $30.00 ages 14 and up

"How about I tell you want I don't like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmodern narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever 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."

Meet A. J. Fikry...he's the owner of Island Books on Alice Island, a summer place. He's approaching 40, and reeling from the death of his pregnant wife in an auto accident. His life is spent drinking and drifting toward bankruptcy. The only thing that might save him is a rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane. Estimated to be worth close to half a million dollars, it is his retirement plan.

Then, someone steals the book. Not only that, a young and distraught mother leaves her young daughter Maya at Island Books, just prior to drowning herself. What is A. J. to do? He cannot imagine handing the beautiful, charming child over to child and family services; so, he adopts her. You might think that is enough of a change in a pretty desultory life; not so! At about the same time, he meets Amelia Loman who reps for Knightley Press and is a very intriguing woman willing to push him to try new books. It takes four years to kindle the romance, but kindle it they do, and life changes once again, for the better.

I love the characters that Gabrielle Zevin creates for her story of love, and love of books. Maya is definitely my favorite, in particular the young Maya:

"The first way Maya approaches a book is to smell it. She strips the book of its jacket, then holds it up to her face and wraps the boards around her ears. Books typically smell like Daddy's soap, grass, the sea, the kitchen table, and cheese.
She studies the pictures and tries to tease story out of them. It is tiring work, but even at three years old, she recognizes some of the tropes. For instance, animals are not always animals in picture books. They sometimes represent parents and children. A bear wearing a tie might be a father. A bear in a blond wig might be a mother. You can tell a lot about a story from the pictures, but the pictures sometimes give you the wrong idea. She would prefer to know the words.
Assuming no interruptions, she can make it through seven books in a morning."

She is a girl after my own heart!

You will also come to know more about A. J., Police Chief Lambiase, writer Daniel Parish and his wife Ismay (who are A.J.'s in-laws), and of course, Amelia. They will grow on you as they also entertain with their quirks and foibles. It's sad, it's funny, it's even aggravating....and it is a most likable story.

If you love books, this is a brand new book to love. The author obviously has the same weakness for words and knows the feelings that draw each and every one of us into a bookstore, only content when we purchase more than we intended to buy upon entry. Aaaah, it's a wonderful habit! Books and stories do become part of our lives, reminding us of ourselves, our hopes, our dreams. This one is sure to be one of those books. Why do bookstores matter? That question is answered in the pages of this very special new story.

Read it once, read it again...and then pass it on to a friend so that they might discover the real gem that it is.   

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