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The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Cover of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Hanging over the porch of the tiny New England bookstore called Island Books is a faded sign with the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

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. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. 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, but large in weight. It's that 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 him or for a determined sales rep named Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light. The wisdom of all those books again become the lifeblood of A.J.'s world and everything twists 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.

Hanging over the porch of the tiny New England bookstore called Island Books is a faded sign with the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

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. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. 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, but large in weight. It's that 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 him or for a determined sales rep named Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light. The wisdom of all those books again become the lifeblood of A.J.'s world and everything twists 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.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Lamb to the Slaughter

    1953/ROALD DAHL

    Wife kills husband with frozen leg of lamb, then disposes of the "weapon" by feeding it to the cops. Serviceable-enough Dahl offering, though Lambiase questioned whether a professional housewife could successfully cook a leg of lamb in the manner described — i.e., without thawing, seasoning, or marinade. Wouldn't this result in tough, unevenly cooked meat? My business isn't cooking (or crime), but if you dispute this detail, the whole story begins to unravel. Despite this reservation, it makes the cut because of a girl I know who loved James and the Giant Peach once upon a time.

    — A.J.F.

    On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes. "Island Books, approximately $350,000.00 per annum in sales, the better portion of that in the summer months to folks on holiday," Harvey Rhodes reports. "Six hundred square feet of selling space. No full-time employees other than owner. Very small children's section. Fledgling online presence. Poor community outreach. Inventory emphasizes the literary, which is good for us, but Fikry's tastes are very specific, and without Nic, he can't be counted on to hand-sell. Luckily for him, Island's the only game in town." Amelia yawns — she's nursing a slight hangover — and wonders if one persnickety little bookstore will be worth such a long trip. By the time her nails have hardened, her relentlessly bright-sided nature has kicked in: Of course it's worth it! Her specialty is persnickety little bookstores and the particular breed that runs them. Her talents also include multitasking, selecting the right wine at dinner (and the coordinating skill, tending friends who've had too much to drink), houseplants, strays, and other lost causes.

    As she steps off the ferry, her phone rings. She doesn't recognize the number — none of her friends use their phones as phones anymore. Still, she is glad for the diversion and she doesn't want to become the kind of person who thinks that good news can only come from calls one was already expecting and callers one already knows. The caller turns out to be Boyd Flanagan, her third online dating failure, who had taken her to the circus about six months back.

    "I tried sending you a message a few weeks ago," he says. "Did you get it?"

    She tells him that she recently switched jobs so her devices have been screwed up. "Also, I've been rethinking the whole idea of online dating. Like whether it's really for me."

    Boyd doesn't seem to hear that last part. "Would you want to go out again?" he asks.

    Re: their date. For a time, the novelty of the circus had distracted from the fact that they had nothing in common. By the end of dinner, the greater truth of their incompatibility had been revealed. Perhaps it should have been obvious from their inability to reach consensus on an appetizer or from his main course admission that he disliked "old things" — antiques, houses, dogs, people. Still, Amelia had not allowed herself to be certain until dessert, when she'd asked him about the book that had had the greatest influence on his life, and he'd replied Principles of Accounting, Part II.

    Gently, she tells him no, she would rather not go out again.

    She can hear Boyd breathing, fluttery and irregular. She worries that he might be crying. "Are you all right?" she asks.

    "Don't patronize me."

    Amelia knows she should hang up, but she doesn't. Some part of her wants the story. What is the point of bad dates if not to have amusing...

About the Author-
  • Gabrielle Zevin has published six adult and young-adult novels, including Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children's Book, which has been translated into more than twenty languages. She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart), for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She has also written for The New York Times Book Review and NPR's All Things Considered. She lives in Los Angeles

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 20, 2014
    The only thing that’s “storied” in the life of A.J. Fikry, a curmudgeonly independent bookseller, in this funny, sad novel from Zevin (The Hole We’re In), is his obvious love of literature—particularly short stories. Fikry runs Island Books, located on Alice Island, a fictional version of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a “persnickety little bookstore,” in the words of Amelia Loman, the new sales rep for Knightley Press. Her first meeting with Fikry does not go well. He’s disgruntled by the state of publishing, and bereft because his beloved wife, Nic, recently died in a car accident. Soon after the meeting, he suffers another loss: a rare first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Tamerlane (Fikry’s primary retirement asset) goes missing. But then Fikry finds an abandoned toddler in his bookstore with a note saying, “This is Maya. She is twenty-five months old.” Somewhat unbelievably, Maya ends up in his care and, predictably enough, opens the irascible bookseller’s heart. The surprisingly expansive story includes a romance between Fikry and Amelia, and follows Maya to the age of 18 before arriving at a bittersweet denouement. Zevin is a deft writer, clever and witty, and her affection for the book business is obvious. Agent: Doug Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic.

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    Penguin Canada
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The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
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Gabrielle Zevin
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