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Summary and book reviews of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

A Novel

by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2014, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

We are not quite novels.

We are not quite short stories.

In the end, we are collected works.

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 Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry 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, he 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, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. 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., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, 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.

Excerpt
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Two Fridays before Christmas, two minutes before close, A.J. makes the rounds of kicking out and ringing up the last customers. A man in a puffy coat is hemming and hawing over the latest Alex Cross. "Twenty-six dollars seems like a lot. You know I can get it cheaper online, right?" A.J. says that he does know as he shows the man the door. "You should really lower your prices if you want to be competitive," the man says.

"Lower my prices? Lower. My. Prices. I hadn't considered that before," A.J. says mildly.

"Are you being cheeky, young man?"

"No, I'm thankful. And at the next Island Books shareholders' meeting, I'll definitely raise this innovative suggestion of yours. I know we want to remain competitive. Between you and me, for a time in the early oughties, we'd given up on competition. I thought it was a mistake, but my board decided that competition was best left to Olympic athletes, kids in spelling ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. At the beginning of the story, Amelia says she is considering quitting online dating. How would you compare the act of buying books online to the act of dating online? Is it relevant to the story that Amelia meets her eventual husband in a very analog location, a bookstore?

  2. Consider the setting. Why do you think the author chooses to set the book on an island? How does the island setting reflect A.J.'s character?

  3. Perhaps oddly, vampires are a recurring motif in the story: for example, when A.J.'s wife throws the vampire prom and when A.J. watches True Blood to court Amelia. What do you make of the references to vampires?

  4. Lambiase moves from an occasional or nonreader, to a reader, to a bookseller. How ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Character Development
I'm not sure how this book would do as a movie. The literary references are part of what gives it its "panache." - LeahLovesBooks

Do you think The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was written - as an homage to her father - by Maya? Or, if not, who might have written it?
Do you think The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was written - as an homage to her father - by Maya? Or, if not, who might have written it? - donnac

Have you read and enjoyed any of the books AJ discusses in the letters to Maya that introduce each new chapter?
There are some good ones there. You should enjoy them. - donnac

How do you think becoming a reader changes Lambiase?
Lambiase is a man open to growth. - LeahLovesBooks

How do you think Daniel Parrish might have changed if he had lived? Do you think some people never change?
Daniel is an archetype. He goes through life with a whistle and a cynical word or two and is smugly sure that he is an upstanding person. Being self absorbed, he is ambivalent to any other person's situation. Being charming is a necessary ... - bettek

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Zevin has written a near-perfect novel. Punctuated by explicit references to classic short stories, implicit literary references, self-deprecating swipes at literary snobs (Is a twist less satisfying if you know it’s coming? Is a twist that you can’t predict symptomatic of bad construction?) and book club discussions, with humor and flawless characterization, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry fills all the bills in straightforward, no-frills prose.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews
Library Journal's Books for Dudes blog

I don't appreciate the position I'm in with The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I resent the skill and verve that Ms. Z. shows in this quirky, punchy novel. I don't like that it's so readable, so appealing. I disdain its damnable charm, its succinctness, its crisp, clear tone! AAAUGH! ... VERDICT: This lightning fast read is super-enjoyable; hide it inside a Popular Mechanics.

Publishers Weekly

Zevin is a deft writer, clever and witty, and her affection for the book business is obvious.

Kirkus

Sometimes funny, sometimes true to life and always entertaining... A likable literary love story about selling books and finding love.

Author Blurb Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child
This novel has humor, romance, a touch of suspense, but most of all love--love of books and bookish people and, really, all of humanity in its imperfect glory.

Author Blurb Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry reminds us what saves us all from a life of loneliness and isolation: our sense of empathy; our ability to love and be loved; our willingness to care and be cared for. Gabrielle Zevin has written a wonderful, moving, endearing story of redemption and transformation that will sing in your heart for a very, very long time.

Author Blurb Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a breezy, big-hearted treat, especially if you've ever wondered about the inner workings of America's national treasures - neighborhood bookstores.

Reader Reviews
Lyn Geib

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Great book for book lovers, people who love book stores, and people in book clubs. There was a small book store in a beach town that I always visited when at the beach, and I absolutely loved this store. The women who owned the store read each book...   Read More

Judy Lathrop

Life of J K Fikrey
This book has a great storyline. Lots of unexpected twists and turns! It reflects life on many small New England Islands. A great read!

Linda Kamin

My New Favorite Book
A delightful novel filled with talk about literature and reference to books and short stories. The characters are quirky and charming. The story touches one's heart. Readers will love the literary allusions.

Cloggie Downunder

delightful read
The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry (aka The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry) is the fifth stand-alone novel by American author, Gabrielle Zevin. Alice Island, a New England summer destination requiring bus and ferry travel, boasts a main street book store. ...   Read More

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The Storied Death of the Independent Bookstore

We heard it when Borders Books began to appear. The Independent Bookstore is going to die. And then when Barnes and Noble Bookstores began popping up in many cities and suburbs. And when Amazon hit the scene. And then ebooks. The Independent Bookstore is all but dead. But is this true?

Ann Patchett and Karen HayesHeadline, November 28, 2012, The Atlantic: The Bookstore Strikes Back. This story, by novelist Ann Patchett is about what this author is doing to fill a void in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. After the last of that city's booksellers went out of business in 2011, Patchett was devastated. But she turned that devastation into resolve when she decided to partner with two veterans in the book business, Karen Hayes, a former sales rep for Random House,...

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