Contemporary Fiction / Fluffy Summer Travel Reads / New to Me Author

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

fikryI heard such great things about this book, but it didn’t quite live up to expectations. There was a lot I liked about it – it’s a book for people who love reading about books and bookselling. I liked the story and the characters, and I especially liked that this story is set in a bookstore. I liked that the characters in this book actually talk about reading, and how reading impacts their lives. They even have an argument about e-readers. I also liked that each chapter started with Fikry’s mini-review of a classic short story.

Why is one 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.

My favorite character in this book was the bookstore itself. I loved reading about the different book groups, author events, etc. I loved the idea that a publisher would visit a small bookseller in person to bring them ARCs and discuss the books (and maybe they do).

Before I tell you what didn’t work for me, I’ll note that, while not technically spoilers, these comments may tell you more about the story than you want to know.  Your call. 

My issues with this book come from the fact that the characters are just too perfect and mostly conflict-free.   I like characters that struggle more, that are morally ambiguous, that make tough choices. Fikry starts out obnoxious and curmudgeonly, and he had my attention, but then all that goes away.

I also don’t care for the storyline where having a baby dropped into your life fixes everything. The child in this book is just much too perfect and easy. She’s of course smarter than all the adults around her, is easy to care for, and everyone loves her.

As a non-parent, I think children are amazing. But I don’t think they fix everything and I don’t think taking care of them is easy. So I’m not a big fan of the “perfect child” storyline. The idea that a child gets dropped in your lap, fixes your life and makes you a better person – maybe it’s my lack of childbearing experience, but I don’t buy it. Feel free to disagree though.

I know I’m looking for realism in a book that’s not written that way.  But I’m just not a big fan of books you could describe as “sweet”.

It’s a nice read, an enjoyable read. A good summer travel read. A read with lots of clever lines about reading.

We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.

But that’s faint praise. I wanted to love it and just didn’t.  

7 thoughts on “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

  1. I agree that it was a little too perfect, mainly because AJ’s rough exterior kind of just disappears into nothingness and we hardly even hear about it again. I also think he and Amy would have had a few more problems, realistically. But I loved it because it was unrealistic and fairytale-esque and about reading and loving it. I’m glad it was a quick summery read for you at least! Great review!

  2. I found it disappointing also. Up to the point where the child appears I was enjoying the character of Fitkry but then it all went downhill into sentimental mush. The idea of the captains reading group was brilliant though.

  3. I’ve been sitting on the fence about this one. The buzz seemed just too good. I don’t go in for sweet either and that just might drive me crazy. I may still read this book at some point, but it is a library book for sure.

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