Reading, Reviews

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Reviewed

Ready for a weekend read? Over the past weekend, I started and finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This book came highly recommended by NPR and is the April book selection for shereads.org‘s book club.

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryA.J. Fikry is a bookseller on a remote fictional island called Alice Island, somewhere near Boston. He is a loner and an intellectual, but he is about to realize that his “no man is an island” theory on books actually applies to all of life. Through many sharp ups and downs, Fikry’s life becomes quite remarkable.

This was a fast read, and not really what I was expecting. It is nothing like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, though goodreads.com makes that comparison. The biggest pro for me from this book was the book talk. If you’re a fan of the short story, you’ll probably like this book even more than I did, as each chapter begins with a short story synopsis and A.J.’s thoughts on what he thinks are the best short stories of all time.

Beyond the many references to literature, A.J. Fikry had several cons in my reading philosophy.

Con #1 – A.J. Fikry is a prickly character that I don’t feel much empathy for at the beginning and my sentiments towards him don’t change as much as they probably should as he evolves through the novel.

Con #2 – While I’m thankful there are no graphic descriptions, the development of romantic relationships between characters begins with the physical side of romance.

Con #3 – Strong language and some substance abuse

Con #4 – There’s a general feeling of meaninglessness instead of hope, as if The Universe is at war against the characters for some reason that no one can know and that no one tries to discover.  One quote in particular stands out to me from the end of the book (not a spoiler, FYI): “I love Island Books [Fikry’s store] with all my heart. I do not believe in God. I have no religion. But this to me is as close to a church as I have known in this life.” When you read that at the end, knowing what the characters have been through, even a book lover like me (who sheds real tears when a bookstore closes) can’t help but sensing there’s an emptiness to the meaning of life presented in the book.

Getting beyond the cons, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has a comfortable narration style, a few lovable characters, and will be a favorite for readers who enjoy literary fiction. I thought this book had a lot of similarities in style to The Time Traveler’s Wife. It also has the feel at some parts of a The Fault in Our Stars for grown-ups. I wouldn’t give A.J. Fikry more than three stars, but as Levar Burton says, “Don’t take my word for it.” I think it’s a book lots of people will love, and it’s an easy weekend or beach read that won’t feel like a waste of time, whether you end up liking it or not.

Reading, Reviews

June Reading

How’s your summer reading going? Just as promised, my list is already not really a list anymore. I read The Light Between Oceans and really enjoyed it. I wrote about it in this post. I started The Homecoming of Samuel Lake but I don’t think I’m going to keep reading it. It’s one of those Southern Lit books that has characters in it who make me want to wring their collective neck. Oh, the backwoods, stubborn men that are so often featured in Southern Literature. They just make me mad. And I don’t read books to get mad. Who needs another reason to get mad? So I’ll give it another few pages later on today but then it’s probably going back to the library. 

The Fault in Our StarsI didn’t have The Fault In Our Stars by John Green on my original summer reading list, but I picked it up because Barnes and Noble basically hit me over the head with posters and displays that told me it was the only book that absolutely had to be read this summer. And that all the cool people are reading it. I don’t aspire to be a cool person, but I’d like to stay “relevant.” (On a side note, I really don’t like the word “relevant.” It’s overused so much, it hardly has a real meaning anymore. Oh the irony.) I’ve got to say, for a book featuring so many sentences that start with “Kind of” and “It was, like, you know…” it was pretty, like, deep. It was a strange combination of “teenager” talk and impossibly hard questions and circumstances.

The book is about Hazel, who is living with cancer. Her diagnosis is and always has been terminal, but her treatments are working miraculously well and she just keeps on living. The life she’s living is more of a half-life, however, until she meets Augustus Waters. He is witty and gorgeous and the book becomes a story of young love with the “interesting” twist of cancer.

At this point in the review, you’re probably wondering, “Why would I put myself through reading this book?” That is a very valid question. I read the book, because, you know, relevancy. Really, I do feel a burden to read the books that are shaping the minds of my generation and the generations younger than me. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with a teenager and actually have something to talk about. But I’m not sure this book will help me with that.  Here’s what I learned: teenagers are inherently and unavoidably self-centered. I was no exception. In fact, considering how I behaved in my teenage years when my grandmother and dad had cancer, I was exceptionally self-centered, even by teenage standards. The teens in The Fault In Our Stars are not exceptions either, cancer or no. Yes, they feel sorry for themselves. Yes, they feel separate from healthy kids. Mostly, they are struggling with the fact that they are young and haven’t done anything worth doing yet and they are awash in wanting their lives to have some kind of meaning. You learn through the book that each character has some ideal that keeps him or her fighting for life on earth. They feel if they don’t attain their one important goal, their lives won’t mean anything. One character’s ideal is that everybody deserves true love. He fights on because he wants to experience that one true love. Another’s ideal is that everybody has got to die, but it should be for a worthy, heroic reason, and cancer just doesn’t cut it. And Hazel’s is that the universe deserves to be  noticed and she is on the planet to notice it. Yeah, that one is a bit vague. I think it has something to do with the human need to worship. So each main character is figuring out how to reconcile their lives with cancer to the ideas they have on why they should live.

It was a very thoughtful book, but also confusing. There are no absolutes. Most of the characters think there is Something (God) and that there is Somewhere they go after they die. Or maybe they just haunt the earth. They’re not really sure. That sort of uncertainty is depressing to me.

If you liked My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult, you’ll appreciate The Fault In Our Stars. I can’t deny that it is a fairly heart wrenching story that has some pretty funny parts. But heart wrenching cancer stories are just too much for me. I didn’t really give myself up to be emotionally involved with the story or liking or relating to the characters. That’s a reflection on me, not the characters. I haven’t had cancer, but it’s hit pretty close to home so far in my life, just as it has for many people. Cancer is our black plague, our cholera, or “consumption” (tuberculosis in the 1800s). No one is untouched by it, but it’s a hard topic to address. Still, I know many people think The Fault In Our Stars is the best book of the summer.

Next up on my list is The Wednesday Sisters. I’m about 30 pages in and so far, it seems pretty similar to The Help in theme and setting. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near as awesome as The Help. But I think there’s potential. I’ll let you know in a few days. =)

Happy Reading!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...