I was watching a YouTube vlogger sum up their top books of 2016 and this was on the list. When I went and checked it out the blurb attracted me so much that I started it as soon as I could. Here it is:
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is 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. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. 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. Fikry 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 A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again 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
This book had so much that I look for from a book; a cast of diverse characters that I can relate to, an exploration of multiple themes all interwoven around a satisfying plot. Because the book was set in a bookstore there was also the added bonus of numerous book references, not to mention the chapters that were named after a famous short story. Sometimes I don’t like it when a book tries to over-identify with the reader by using this tactic, it can feel gimmicky and forced, but it worked here, perhaps because of the way it tied in so perfectly with latter stage events.
While exploring themes such as loneliness, relationships, life and death, there was a strong sense of irony and contradiction running through the narrative which gave it an extra layer of dexterity.
The characters were diverse and separate from one another, following their own evolution. This was one of the elements that made the book so satisfying, so many stories within a story. A. J, the protagonist was cynical and set in his ways, abhorring e-readers and internet shopping which he felt might impact the role of bricks-and-mortar shops like his. But at the same time he was also loveable and wise, a character who I formed a deep appreciation of.
This book was more than just the themes it explored, it was about the importance a bookstore can and does play in people’s lives and how it can shape their future.
A heart-warming book that the perfect end to my reading year.