Almost any book that is set in a bookstore or library is at least going to get my attention. Before I was a librarian I was a bookseller, so those two settings and professions pique my interest. If a book fails to portray library life or bookstore life properly, I practically throw it across the room. I’m very hard-nosed about this. When I heard about this book, featuring a curmudgeon of a book store owner on a small New England island who finds himself caring for an abandoned child, I figured I needed to give it a read. And it turned out to be one of my favorite books of 2014!
A.J. Fikry owns the only bookstore on Alice Island, and it’s revealed that ever since A.J.’s wife Nic, a native of the island, died in a car accident, the bookstore hasn’t been doing so well, and neither has A.J. But he has a relationship with books, and in particular a rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane that at least keep him a little grounded in reality, if a little more esoteric than those around him. (Every chapter in the book is named after a novel, along with a review by A.J.) If you’ve ever seen the show Black Books, A.J. is a softer version of Bernard Black.
Despite the fact that he loves books and owns a bookstore, A.J. does not particularly care for writers. He finds them to be unkempt, narcissistic, silly, and generally unpleasant people. He tries to avoid meeting the ones who’ve written books he loves for fear that they will ruin their books for him.
And then one day, returning from a run, A.J. finds that someone has left a toddler named Maya in his store with a note to take care of her. And suddenly A.J. finds himself a father. As the story progresses, the little town and grumpy bookseller who all miss Nic blossom with the effect of the little girl left in the bookstore. This is a book that has a plot that slowly reveals itself – you’re in it for the experience and the characters. And for all the bookish references that make this former-bookseller-turned-librarian take notice and smile. Personally, I enjoyed the appearances of the local police chief about as much as the rest of the book.
Not everything is peachy on Alice Island, and if you’re of a certain disposition you may shed a few tears by the end, but overall you’re going to fall in love with these characters, and relish watching A.J. develop as a person through the people around him. This is a sweet and tender book that makes it a *perfect* choice for book clubs. Very much a comfort read, and I am just fine with that. (Normally these kind of cozy reads aren’t my cup of cocoa, but because this is set in a bookstore with a cast of quirky characters, and well-written on top of that, I couldn’t put it down.) If you need a relatively quick read to give you some warm and fuzzies, that may also give you pause on the importance of family and service, I recommend The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry wholeheartedly!