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).


Redhead in Scrubs: The Story So Far, Part 3

In absolutely no way is anything in this series to be taken as advice.  I am not an expert in how to get accepted to medical school – I’ve been rejected exponentially more than I’ve been accepted.  If there was a formula to get in, I’d share it – but there isn’t.  Everyone who is accepted gets to that point a different way.

In April 2013, I had the best job interview that I will probably ever have.  I explained my medical school application history and that I was looking for clinical experience, and my interviewer said “It sounds like we need you and you need us.”  (This is the abridged version, but not by much.)  In May, I graduated and went to Texas to learn how to be a scribe.  When I returned, I started working in a Level 1 Trauma Center ED here in Memphis.  Within three weeks, I was promoted and had a job with actual responsibility.
A few months later, I started applying again.  This time, I applied to MD (Allopathic) and DO (Osteopathic) schools – in 2012, I’d only applied MD.  I got my applications in for MD earlier (in August) and my DO applications in in November.  Again, we waited.  We completed secondary applications.  And we waited some more.
In January 2014, I got my interview invitation for the University of Tennessee.  It was a much better interview experience overall, but apparently not better enough. I found out in February that I was on the waitlist.  I didn’t have any other interviews.  In June, I found out that, not only was I in the middle third of the waitlist, it was much longer than usual due to a computer glitch.  I was told to be “hopeful but realistic” and began to prepare myself to do it all over again.
This year, we did things a little differently.  I applied to only one allopathic school (University of Tennesee), and the rest osteopathic.  My applications were in the day they opened, and I got secondaries in within two days of receipt.
I’ve decided that timeliness was the turning point.  One morning in July I was sleeping after a night shift and got an email with an interview invitation from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine at Seton Hill.  I thought it was a joke!  I’d never even heard of an interview invitation in July.
The interview was in August, and it was great.  It was actually a fun day; it was my first group interview and I really enjoyed the format.  My mom and I made a trip out of it and visited family and our old stomping grounds in the Baltimore/DC metro.
On September 30th (the day after I went to a Career Fair just in case), I got an acceptance letter from LECOM – Seton Hill.  I was too scared to check the mail – Matt had to do it for me and I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the tiny envelope.  Then I nearly had another one when I opened it.  For a few weeks, we more or less basked in being able to relax for the first time in four years!
A few weeks later, I got my second interview invitation, for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific – Northwest.  A few weeks after that, I got my third, for the University of Tennessee.  The UT interview was just before Thanksgiving and went extremely well (I thought) and the COMP-NW one was at the beginning of December.
Matt and I had made a trip of the COMP-NW interview; we spent a day in Seattle, a day in Astoria, a day in Salem, and a day in Portland.  Neither of us had ever been to the Pacific Northwest before and it was a great time!
After that, there was more waiting.  It didn’t take long to find out that I was on the waitlist at both of those two schools.  So… that brings us up to where we are now.

Reading Patterns Explained by Physics! (Or Something)

I don’t have a review for today because I haven’t finished another book yet.  I like it, but I haven’t finished it.  And that got me thinking:  I finished Attachments and Station Eleven within a few days each.  I’ve been working on The People in the Trees for two weeks.  Does that mean I don’t like it as much?

And then I thought:  it’s just physics!

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Review: “Station Eleven,” Emily St. John Mandel

Rating:  5/5

Publisher’s Synopsis:  An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night, Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear.  Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid.  A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead.  That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread.  Hospitals are flooded, and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony.  Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors.  Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm, is a line from Star Trek:  “Because survival is insufficient.”  But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty.  As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all.  A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

There’s no way that I could pick a favorite book, but Cormac McCarthy’s The Road would definitely be in my top five (just don’t ask me to read it again).  I can’t know for sure, of course, but I can’t imagine that Emily St. John Mandel didn’t intend her readers to see some parallels between The Road and Station Eleven.

What Station Eleven does that The Road does not, and what I thinks sets it apart from most post-apocalyptic novels, is that it dedicates a nearly equal amount of text to the time before and during the apocalypse as to the time after it.  In fact, I think that Station Eleven is unique among most contemporary novels in that parts of it read like a love letter to the society that most of us are so disillusioned with – Facebook, 24-hour news, and noses buried in iPhones everywhere we look.

I have found that with novels that jump around in time and place, as this one does, I often get to a new chapter and long for the last to continue, rather than moving excitedly onward through the narrative.  That was not the case here.  With every change in perspective, I found myself eager to learn what new piece of the puzzle was going to be revealed, and confident that my questions about the story I was moving on from would be answered adequately in time.  Perhaps this says more about my attitude as a reader than about St. John Mandel’s storytelling, but I am inclined to believe that it is because although her different narratives are fragmented, the vignettes would stream together seamlessly were they put ‘in order.’

Often, when a story promises to connect various storylines into a single climax, that connection feels contrived.  One of the great pleasures of reading Station Eleven was watching the differently threads weave together organically.  St. John Mandel gives enough clues even from the very first chapter that there is nothing contrived or forced when everything falls into place.

Ultimately, I don’t think that the brilliance of Station Eleven lies in doing something new or groundbreaking.  It is, at its heart, a post-apocalyptic survival story.    However, that gross oversimplification doesn’t give the novel nearly enough credit for doing everything that it does exceptionally well – from telling the story of a plague, to building a world on the foundations of the one destroyed, to giving each character nuances and enough back-story so that they can be seen shades of gray.

Bout of Books 12.0 – Days 4 and 5

Bout of Books

Well that’s more like it!  The last two days were fantastic reading days.
On Thursday, I finished Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell (249 pages) and read 79 pages of Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.
Yesterday (Friday), I finished Station Eleven (254 pages) and read 39 pages of The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara.
If you’re participating, how are you doing so far?

2015 Reading Goals

Let’s be clear:  I didn’t make my 2014 Reading Goals.  I didn’t even come close.  I finished 14 books out of 50.  It’s really rather pathetic.

All that is to say that I’m a little cynical about my own reading capacity going in to 2015.  The most books that I’ve ever read in a year (as an adult) was 47 – but I was an English Major at the time!  So, taking medical school and moving into account, I’m going to set my 2015 goal at 25 books.  There are a few leftovers from 2014 that I want to get to:

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