Review: “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” Gabrille Zevin

Rating:  2.5/5

Publisher’s Synopsis:  A.J. Fikry’s LIfe is not at all what he expected it to be.  He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen.  But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its  unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over – and see everything anew.

Do you know that feeling when you finish a book and you’re underwhelmed, but the more you think about it, the more you realize you liked it?  I am experiencing the exact opposite of that with The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  It’s lost a star and a half in the 12 hours or so since I finished it.

When I initially set it down, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside and gave it 4/5 on Goodreads.  Almost immediately, I decided that was too high.  After I slept on it, I think that was way too high.  It’s amazing what that warm fuzzy feeling can make me do.

I know that I am in the minority of bibliophiles if I say that I didn’t particularly love this book.  I raced through it, certainly – I would even go so far as to say I enjoyed reading it.  In retrospect, though, there was just nothing to it.

I hope I don’t make enemies by saying that I think The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry relies too heavily on making bibliophiles feel warm and fuzzy.  There is a deep and seemingly genuine love of books and reading and readers that echoes through every word, and I appreciate that.  I share that.  At the same time, there are contemporary and not-so-contemporary novels and short stories painstakingly name-dropped through the text as if Zevin wanted every reader to find the name of a story they loved.  I didn’t like that.

The characters are (for the most part) likeable enough and superficially dynamic.  That being said, we don’t know any of them well enough before they start to evolve to say for sure if they are truly dynamic!  They aren’t even static in any interesting way.  They go through their lives and with only one or two notable exceptions, they react to the events of the novel exactly the way the reader expects them to. They don’t do anything particularly shocking and the ‘twists’ in the plot are more like gentle turns.  Maybe in retrospect I just didn’t care enough to feel shocked?  There is minimal appreciable conflict and events unfold in what feels like a logical progression of ‘if this, then that.’

If I hate a book I don’t finish it, so any book I finish gets at least 2 stars (if I’m reading it completely of my own accord).  I didn’t hate reading this.  On the contrary, I enjoyed the process of reading it. I can appreciate a love letter to bibliophilia.  But I feel a bit like I was tricked into thinking that I liked the story when I really only loved the theme, and there are just better bibliophilic books out there (Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore comes immediately to mind).


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