The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel

by Gabrielle Zevin

Hardcover, 2014

Call number




Algonquin Books (2014), Edition: 1St Edition, 272 pages


When his most prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, is stolen, bookstore owner A. J. Fikry begins isolating himself from his friends, family and associates before receiving a mysterious package that compels him to remake his life.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a book for Librarythingers if ever there was one. Ever daydream about owning an independent bookstore on a beautiful island? Do you enjoy reading about bookstores and books and people who love books? With interesting characters and some romance thrown in?

A.J. Fikry is a man in his late 30s who lost his beloved wife to an accident and is unmoored. His bookstore, on Alice Island off the coast of Massachusetts, is failing, and a bottle is his nightly companion, as he longs for oblivion. He's a grumpy, opinionated reader, and lays into poor new sales rep Amelia, when she tries to get him to carry books she loves from the Knightley Press catalog. “I do not like postmodernism, post­apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be — basically gimmicks of any kind. . . . I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and — I imagine this goes without saying — vampires.” Hmm, I wonder why his bookstore is failing?

All his self-destruction changes with two developments - a valuable book, that he was planning to sell to fund his retirement, is stolen from his apartment above the store, and a two year old girl is left for him with a note requesting that he raise her in the bookstore. As he does what he can to help the little girl, he finds himself pulled back into life and the community. Two year old Maya adores him, and blossoms into a lovely, precocious teenager with a yen to write. The police officer who first helps him, Lambaise, becomes a close friend and increasingly adventurous reader. Other characters struggle - self-absorbed Daniel Parrish's first book was a still-read bestseller, but his career has been on a downward trajectory ever since, and his wife Ismay (A.J.'s sister-in-law) is isolated, disenchanted and sad. Helping care for Maya brings some spark to her life, and appreciation for A.J. When A.J. finally reads one of the unlikely books Amelia the sales rep has recommended, his admiration for her grows.

Tragedy and death rise up in the book, but beneath it all pulses a love for life and books. Zevin is a successful young adult author (I liked her Elsewhere), and this is her second foray into adult literature. It's a fast-paced Valentine to the reading life, and the quirky people who love books so.

“People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”

“He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall. He feels drunk or at least carbonated. Insane. At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it's love. Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It's completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.”
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LibraryThing member Twink
I absolutely adored Gabrielle Zevin's latest novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry! Although murder and mayhem is my favourite genre to read, I need to read a feel good story every so often. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a five star feel good!

A.J. is the curmudgeonly owner of Island Books. The sign above the door also includes: "No man is an island: every book is a world."

A.J. has made himself into an island though. His wife has died and so has a part of A.J. He doesn't like people and he drinks too much. A valuable book that was to have funded his retirement has been stolen - and it wasn't insured. What does life have left to offer A.J.? What does A.J. have left to offer to the world? Not much it seems, until the day a unusual 'package' is left in the bookstore.....And so begins a new chapter of life for A.J. Fikry....

Now, I have no desire to spoil this book for potential readers, so suffice to say, there is romance, heartbreak, heartwarming, drama, humour and much, much more contained within the pages of A.J.'s life. I was completely caught up in Zevin's wonderful story and spent most of one Sunday on Alice Island.

Zevin has created such a wonderful cast of characters, each with a unique voice and their own story. A.J.'s wry comments and gruff attitude belie a gentle, caring soul. There is a wonderful cast of supporting characters as well. Best supporting goes to Police Chief Lambiese whose slow, easy manner hides an astute mind. I would love to attend the Chief's Choice book club. (with a focus on crime writers)

The literary references, the bookseller and publisher rep comments and the descriptions of the bookstore will fill any booklover or bookseller with delight. I wanted to live in the little apartment above Island Books and hang out in the store below. Definitely a recommended read, guaranteed to warm the heart and soul.

I had a quick listen to the audiobook version as well. Scott Brick (one of my favourites) is the reader and I thought his interpretation was spot on.
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LibraryThing member trinityM82
This was fantastic - realistic fiction, but with a dreamy feel. It is not predictable but the revelations are well prepared for. It follows A.J.'s life from just after his wife's death, to his adoption of a baby girl who was abandoned in his store, to his new love affair with Amy, and their life together. It all takes place in a bookstore on an island off of Rhode Island. He stitches together his "memoirs" with selections of his favorite short stories, as a way to leave his daughter a memory of him after the brain cancer takes his life. The minor or secondary characters are richly developed and enhance the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member Rdra1962
This is the type of book I normally avoid, or if I mistakenly pick it up and read, I usually read it with eyes rolling the entire time. To be fair, there was eye rolling, and I did groan a bit when the "surprise" showed up in Chapter 3. Chick Lit-ish? Predictable? Fluffy? Yes, yes and yes, and yet, when the theme of a novel is books, reading and writing, and the recurring quote is "A town isn't a town without a bookstore", I am a happy reader.

Could it have been a better book? Yes. Could it have been less predictable, edgier, more complex, demanded more of it's readers, certainly. If you are looking for a feel-good, easy to digest, book-themed book, the book that everyone will be reading on the beach, on the plane, for their book club; this is the book. You won't hate yourself for loving it, you will feel grateful that you spent a few hours on Alice Island, and you may find yourself rereading a few short stories afterwards....
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LibraryThing member ctpress
“We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.”

A bittersweet story about a grumpy bookstore-owner. A. J. Fikry is a widower - he drinks too much and pushes people away. Then one day he finds a baby left in the bookstore with a note. In the note the mother asks him to raise the child - he adopts the child and everything changes in A. J. Fikry’s life.

This is not only a story about Fikry - and the people in his life - but also about the many ways we interact with stories and how these collected stories shape our lives. As a booklover it’s hard not to love the many references to short stories and novels, old and new. Even if A. J. Fikry’s taste in books is eccentric to put it mildly.

In some places it reminded me of [A Man Called Ove] - not quite that good but still - deep pain and quirky humor goes hand in hand here.

Scott Brick does a very slow narration with a sadness in his tone. I thought it fitted well with the novel.
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LibraryThing member BeckyJG
As a reader and bookseller I've long been leery of what we in the business call "buzz books". Don't get me wrong--I don't believe that because something is popular doesn't mean it's no good. Far from it! But book buzz--like any other kind of hype--is generated as often as it's genuine, and I have very little interest in reading anything because a corporation tells me I should. On the other hand, if my fellow booksellers are to a person loving something I take notice.

By the time I received my advance reading copy of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, my interest had already been piqued. Yes, it seemed there was a degree of generated buzz; after all, the publisher's reps were pushing it pretty hard. But when it reached my hands, it seemed, a generated-to-genuine transition had occurred, so I decided to give it a try.

That The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a book about an independent bookstore owner certainly didn't hurt its case with me.

A.J. Fikry is in his late thirties. He owns Island Books, a small independent bookstore ("No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World" reads the faded sign over the porch) located in a Martha's Vineyard-esque island community. A.J. seems a bitter loner, and in our first encounter with him, in which he does his best to alienate a new publisher's rep making her first seasonal visit to his store, he also comes across as a bit of an ass.

Soon after this visit, in rapid succession, A.J. loses a very valuable book (a first edition of Poe's Tamerlane, published in a run of only fifty copies) to theft and finds an abandoned baby, two events that, along with the death of his wife, which happens before the action of the book begins, will define, nay, transform the rest of his life.

A.J. Fikry enters our acquaintance as a book snob and a pedant, even in his most emotionally draining moments ("If this were Raymond Carver," he says to the cop who's taking his statement at the hospital after the death of his wife in a car accident, "you'd offer me some meager comfort and darkness would set in and all this would be over. But feeling more like a novel to me after all. Emotionally, I mean. It will take me a while to get through it. Do you know?"). He has little patience for books that he's not interested in, but he has perfect memory for people's reading tastes, and, despite the snobbishness can make appropriate recommendations. And A.J. can--and does!--change and grow as a bookseller and as a reader. As a new father he finds himself becoming more a part of the community than he ever has been before, adding to his bookstore's inventory--he brings in books that local moms are interested in for their book clubs, he adds a kids section--and even reading books he never would have looked at before.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a book about love and loss and what we read. It's about community and family, and how the family we cobble together is just as important as the one we're biologically tied to.

And, finally, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is about bookstores. You know how important bookstores are, so I'll just leave you with A.J.'s thoughts after his mother gives everyone in the family an e-reader for Christmas (emphasis is mine):

"A.J. has reflected often reflected that, bit by bit, all the best things in the world are being carved away like fat from meat. First, it had been the record stores, and then the video stores, and then newspapers and magazines, and now even the big chain bookstores were disappearing everywhere you looked. From his point of view, the only thing worse than a world with big chain bookstores was a world with NO big chain bookstores. At least the big stores sell books and not pharmaceuticals or lumber! At least some of the people who work at those stores have degrees in English literature and know h ow to read and curate books for people! At least the big stores can sell ten thousand units of publisher's dreck so that Island gets to sell one hundred units of literary fiction!"
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LibraryThing member TheBookJunky
It's a nice idea, who can't like a book set in a bookstore? On a tourist island? Run by a guy who will only buy stock of literary fiction?
No mass market schlock, self-help or crappy cookbooks for him.
And what's more tragic than a youngish widower-bookstore owner who really loved his dead wife? Yes! Abandoned children! All good children's books have abandoned/orphaned children.
Trite, predictable, manipulative, superficial, simple.
Liberally sprinkled with names of authors and books throughout, shelf-notes-like personalised blurbs of well-known/loved books -- but this is window dressing. Talking about great books doesn't make it a great book. It only minimally alleviates the boredom.
Sorry. I feel guilty for dissing it.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This book was way too sugary for my taste, but it had it's moments. For starters, it's a book about books, reading, and an independent book shop. I had to laugh when I read A.J. statement to a publisher's rep about the kind of books he likes to read, because it was a near duplicate of a post I left in answer to a similar question in a social network book group (Are there any genres or types of books that you will not read?). But overall, it was an improbable feel-good story, in my opinion. A.J. Fikry runs Island Books, a small independent bookstore on the isolated New England island of Alice. His young wife was killed in a car accident, and A.J. has become a virtual recluse and early curmudgeon. Then one day he finds a baby abandoned in his shop, and his life makes a 360-degree turn. He becomes a lovable character that everyone in Alice adores and admires.

The problem: Would Social Services really agree to allow a mean, financially struggling widower to adopt a little girl just because the mother left the child in his store with a note saying she wanted her child to grow up loving books?

Another problem: Does having a child in one's life really make everything hunky-dory and entirely change one's personality and the reactions of everyone around them? (Ask any of the many divorced parents who thought having a baby would solve all their problems.)

I feel a bit like a curmudgeon myself pointing out these issues, but they did rather color my impression of the entire happy-happy-joy-joy novel. If you're up for a quick, fluffy feel-good read, this might be the book for you.
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LibraryThing member laVermeer
As a life-long reader, an editor, and a publisher, I ADORED this novel. Anyone who loves books and reading will enjoy it. It's sweet and sad and utterly satisfying.
LibraryThing member booktruffler
Once again, I'm reminded of why I usually steer clear of contemporary fiction. This was way too light for me. No slam on the author, but it definitely felt like someone moving from YA to Adult, and not quite gearing the prose high enough. There were a few really funny moments, but overall, it was pretty cliched.
LibraryThing member rolyat
I couldn't put it down. excellent read!
LibraryThing member haymaai
For me the best feature of The Storied Life of AJ Fikrye were the references to other books and short stories featured within this noteworthy novel. I found it intriguing in how the author utilized some authentic titles and passages to express AJ’s thinking, and how she also referenced a fictional memoir entitled ‘The Late Bloomer’ by Leon Friedman, as being Amelia’s favorite work. I loved the twist that developed, resulting from this supposed memoir of an older gentleman. Other than my attraction to the use of contemporary, as well as classic pieces of writing within the story, I thought that the first half of the book moved along rather sluggishly, followed by a quick resolution at the end, which made me feel like the plot had been delivered, and now abruptly it was time to bid the reader farewell.
Within the story, I loved the way that Maya came into AJ’s life, slowly transforming AJ into a responsible, caring father, from a self-serving, miserable drunk. And because I am a consummate romantic, I also enjoyed the quirkiness of Amelia, and her developing relationship with AJ, which some critics have compared to the qualities of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Overall, I thought that The Storied Life of AJ Fikrye was a pleasant story with some interesting twists in the plot. For me, it was not as emotionally gripping as Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, but I so enjoyed being transported to the community of Alice Island where Island Books served as a meeting place for intellectual discourse and engagement with enchanting books. The setting itself was enough to lure me into reading this story!
As I read the novel, I was most moved by AJ’s attempt to share his philosophy of life with Maya, although she is unable to discern what he is saying at the time. He tells her, “We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.” I was so moved by his statement, as I believed it to be the major point of this amazing story.
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LibraryThing member DonnaB317
What a marvelous little story. The characters are wonderful - sad without annoying indecision and self-doubt and self-sabotage that makes for such frustration in other stories. I really liked cranky AJ.
LibraryThing member karconner
This is a nice book- that's a word I always tell me students not to use because it isn't very telling. But, I think it sums this book up well. It is a quick read with likeable characters and setting. I predicted some of the plot events, but I idn't mind that at all. It's a nice read- simple as that.
LibraryThing member books_ofa_feather
I'm a bookseller. I own a small-town bookstore with my sister and I can't think of a more perfect book for this year of selling books than A.J.'s story. I want to read it again with the words in front of me as I listened to it this time. There are so many quotable elements, so many book recommendations to scribble down, and I cried...more than one time. I hope I can bring this kind of magic to people in my book world and I hope I can convince others of the necessity to READ THIS NOW!… (more)
LibraryThing member horomnizon
It might not be the perfect booklover's book, but it comes pretty close. Set in a bookstore? Check! Lots of mention of classic books and stories? Check! Dark side of author visits? Check! A cop who loves to read cop stories? Yep, that too!

There's tragedy, too - quite a lot of it, but somehow, together, the characters manage to muddle through. And it's the characters that really make this a sweet story. Most of them are not happy in the beginning. Some of them are no longer around at the end and the rest are not all happy either, yet there's hope and a sense of lives being improved throughout the story.

Very enjoyable and certainly great for book clubs. I'd recommend it!
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LibraryThing member hc1986
I really liked this book. It was such an easy read, yet it contained so much food for thought. Sure, there was some unrealistic stuff, but I loved how Maya pulled AJ from his widower's funk and in return AJ provided Maya with the childhood every intellectually curious kid wants.
LibraryThing member c.archer
I managed to read this book in one day, granted I was snowed in, but I found it captivating. I love books and anything to do with books. Whenever I find a story about books, bookstores or libraries, I usually jump on it. I was thrilled by the description of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a book about a bookstore (Island Books) and it's quirky bookseller/owner (A.J.). I anticipated a good story, but was blown away by a book that topped all my expectations. The book is beautifully written with a storyline that will capture most anyones heart. Each chapter begins with a short story suggestion made by A.J. to his daughter, along with his reasons for choosing that particular story. Of course this also leads the reader into the next section of the book. With each chapter I found myself becoming more and more entranced with the characters and Island Books.
The author does a marvelous job of creating a story that you want to hear. She makes many references to books and authors, both current and classic. I loved this! She is also great with weaving her story together flawlessly. While it is a magically told story, it is still very realistic. For a day, I found myself watching the lives of these very special people in this small Northeast town, and I am richer for it.
I recommend this book to all bibliophiles like myself and, frankly, anyone else as well. It is a beautifully crafted story that is perfect for young and old alike. I thank the publisher, author, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review this title.
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LibraryThing member BettyTaylor56
A must-read for people who truly love books. To quote from the book: "Bookstores attract the right kind of folk. Good people...And I like talking about books with people who like talking about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. I like how a new book smells, too." Gabrielle Zevin must love books in order to write that. It really gets to the meat of things.

This is a totally delightful story of a curmudgeonly man who runs a bookstore on Alice Island. His wife was killed in a car accident and he has lost the zest of life. One day he enters his bookstore and finds a package marked for him. The contents of this package totally turns his life around. The characters in the book are real. I found myself really investing my emotions into their lives. Joy, sadness, loneliness, comfort. It's all there. I really hated to end my visit to Alice Island.
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LibraryThing member Codonnelly
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin reads like an unapologetic melodrama. In one moment things seem normal, and in the next everything is turned upside down and backwards. Thirty-something A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore on Alice Island. The bookstore was the dream of his wife, now deceased. After her death, he spends his days slowly distancing himself from friends and family. That is, until an unexpected package arrives.

Each chapter shares its name with the title of a novel or short story written by a famous author (Roald Dahl, J.D. Salinger, and Flannery O’Connor, to name a few). A.J. introduces each book with commentary written to someone he loves. Notably, this person is not named until later in the plot. His notes often foreshadow the events in the chapter to come, but also provide insight into his outlook on life. The emphasis on literature and its meaning is the strongest aspect of the book, and at times, I wished there was more of it.

Written in multiple perspectives, the reader can see the world through the eyes of almost every character introduced, and there are a lot of characters to follow. Unfortunately, this means that you never feel connected to any character in particular. Ample time is also not given to expand on character’s personalities. A.J. never moves far beyond the gruff, sarcastic father figure trope. Amelia, the overly optimistic sales representative who befriends him, introduces the story, but then disappears for a large portion of the novel. It is difficult to connect with her again after her absence. Other characters, such as A.J.’s nosy sister-in-law, Ismay, and the bumbling police officer, Lambiase, play important roles in the novel, but they are underdeveloped and the actions they take are hard to justify.

The action is fast-paced, and time also progresses quickly from chapter to chapter. While there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, most are overdramatic and unbelievable. Many of the changes of heart that occur throughout the novel come far too abruptly, and none are explored enough to ever fully make sense. The final few chapters of the novel perturbed me the most, as no-one seems to be able to catch a break. And yet, despite the sorrowful events, I felt nothing.

Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry comes across as trite and maudlin. Simplistic writing, tired stereotypes, and a disjointed tone detract from what could have been a lovely, albeit sentimental, tale about the blessings of family. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
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LibraryThing member joeydag
I really enjoyed this novel about a widowed owner of a bookstore on an island offshore New England. The chapters are divided by short reviews/recommendations from A J Fikry, to his adopted daughter. Some very touching love stories as well as deaths. A very literary read with many references to writers, stories, and book selling. I highly recommend this read.… (more)
LibraryThing member JBD1
A love letter of a story to bookstores, booksellers, and those around them. It'll make you smile, and laugh, and quite possibly even shed a tear or two. It may also, I expect, send you off in search of a few of the stories noted in the title.

Even with the occasional small misstep and a few slightly mawkish moments, Zevin's written a wonderful story, and I recommend it to all those who, like me, enjoy the pleasures of a good bookstore and the company of those who make them tick.… (more)
LibraryThing member mahsdad
AJ is the curmudgeonly owner of a bookstore on the fictitious Alice Island (purported to be off the coast of Hyannis). He is dealing with the loss of his wife and a struggling business, and not dealing too well. Serendipitously, a baby is left on his doorstep and she changes his life. In a way that screams a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie adaptation, he adopts the little girl. She grows up living and working in the book store, AJ finally finds love, the store thrives and becomes the center of the community with a good cast of characters; a sister-in-law with marital problems with her author husband, a rough but sensitive police chief who discovers a love of books and the book sales woman from the mainland with a heart of gold.

A fun read, a little saccharin, but I loved the emphasis on reading and books. Each chapter starts with a review of one of AJ's favorite books.


S: 5/11/16 - F: 6/7/16 (28 Days)
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LibraryThing member nyiper
I was pulled right into this story---as other reviewers have said--who doesn't love a book store? And how nicely Zevin arranged all the overlapping character issues! I was also intrigued with how she used the skin color of the characters---it was hinted at but just so minor in the story that you could see the value of each character, proving that of course skin color makes absolutely no difference in the worth of a person.… (more)
LibraryThing member steeleyjan
You are going to want to read this one. This novel is as charming as it is honest, and does not shy away from real life. There is no over-the-top sentimentality. It's characters are deep and well developed, and you will know them well by the end of the novel.

Our author introduces us to A.J. Fickry, owner of the small Island Bookstore. This bookstore is failing, and A.J.'s life is no more successful than his business. It is the story of a widower who is a loner with little purpose, and the child who enters his world alone and in need.

The Storied Life of AJ Fickry is character-rich and charming, and has deep and meaningful prose that all readers will recognize as somehow familiar, as well as insightful.

For example, AJ reflects through a journal entry and expresses to his daughter, "...The things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty.. and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life.” ~AJ Fickry.

Our characters experience life realistically and at times, somewhat harshly. You will find that this book effortlessly floats forward through time with you beside it, and I promise, you will walk it on home.

And the ending....jeez. Those of us who like to review our audible selections really need to find a some kind of "red alert" system so that future readers can be warned when they are listening to a book whose last chapter should not be read in public. Could not one of you given me a heads up in your review?? I finished the book during a commute, and had to sit there in my car to collect myself before walking into work 10 minutes late.

In the words of Barbara Park's character, Junie B. Jones, kindergartner extraordinaire:
"My eyes had wet in them."
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