I have always loved books. I used to look forward to the “Weekly Reader” news back in grade school so I could beg my mom to order more books. I would constantly scout yard sales in search of a book that would strike my fancy. For the most part my tastes ran in the Sci-fi and Horror genres. I hated the books that I was made to read (at least until I was older and could actually appreciate them). I once attended a high school in Oregon that each semester the student chose the classes and one semester there was a reading class. This class was unique in that it wasn’t assigned reading, but rather books the students chose. We’d spend that hour of the day reading, we kept track of the daily pages read to show progress, and as we finished each book we would discuss with the teacher on a one-on-one basis the book and what our next book choice would be. I loved those discussions, the teacher seemed to have read almost everything and each session the teacher would always steer me toward another book in that area, but I would still choose my own. During that semester I read, “Night of the Living Dead” (I was testing the limits with this), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “On the Road,” “Flowers for Algernon” and a couple of Stephen King novels.
This freedom allowed me to branch out from my horror and sci-fi novels and find other fun books. The problem was I was only at that school for one semester and soon moved on to being assigned, “Moby Dick,” “Catcher in the Rye” and the rest that everyone “must” read. While in the Navy I was constantly reading every chance I could, which there were many chances when out to sea. What this all boils down to is that reading is a major part of my life and has become even more so in my later adult years, now I can again read whatever I want, and with the addition of audiobooks into my selections, I absorb books at an even higher pace. This book by Gabrielle Zevin is written just for me. Okay, maybe not specifically for me but people like me. In “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” Zevin has shown how books are not only a major part of peoples lives but how each person’s life is like a collection of books and makes it fun to connect people with books. Even better is that this book not only shows why we read but why people come and go in our lives and why we love them and love in general. The book is full of literary references that are just as fun to discover as the listening to the audiobook itself.
I chose the audiobook version of this book for several reasons, but the main reason was that it was read by Scott Brick. Scott Brick is one of my favorite audiobook narrators. I’ve always enjoyed his readings because he is able to capture all the emotions and characters of every book he reads. This book, however, had even more of a pull, in that the press release had a quote from Brick stating that this book is one that made him cry. Knowing that Scott Brick has read thousands of books for the audiobook market, one would think he would be immune to those sad moments while reading. Without giving any spoilers, I would say that I could hear the moment that hit him hardest. Brick was perfect in the reading of this book and along with him, I found myself tearing up through out.
A.J. Fickry is a grumpy old bookstore owner. He has recently lost his wife to an auto accident, which he blames himself for. Her loss has made A.J. even grumpier. A.J. has a rare copy of “Tamerlane” by Edgar Allen Poe, and plans on selling that at auction and moving off of Alice Island. One morning after waking up hungover, A.J. discovers the book missing. After months of investigation the book is never recovered and A.J. must continue running the bookstore.
What happens next turns A.J.’s life around and he discovers the answers to several of life’s mysterys. A young woman leaves her baby in the children’s books section of the bookstore and tells A.J. through a note attached that she wants her daughter to grow up well read. The woman’s body later washes up onshore leaving more of a mystery. At first A.J. is confused and annoyed, after all what is he going to do with a baby? A.J. soon grows fond of the two year-old with a surprising vocabulary, and works to get her adopted.
The rest of the book is about learning about life and love through A.J. and his living through his daughter, Mia Tamerlane Fickry. The many lessons learned involve the differences of race and how people perceive that, how love comes to you when you least expect it, and the meaning of life. If you are ready for a book that runs the entire emotional gamut that is life. At the end of the book you can’t help but feel satisfied with just having read / listened to a great story and peek into someone’s life. All told through the shared experiences of books, book discussions, book clubs and A.J. Fickry pick out the books for his shelf.
If you have ever made friends with a book this one will easily become your new best friend.