The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is my early favorite for Book of the Year. I loved it. There isn’t really much else to write. Find it. Read it. A.J. Fikry is the owner of a small town book store, Island Books. He has not only endured the downturn of the local book economy, but he is trying to move on after the death of his wife. After she is gone, he is left to tend to the store. The place was her dream and he mostly came along for the ride. At first, it’s tough to move on and at the onset A.J. decides to give up on life. He doesn’t take care of himself and tries to drink himself to death. To top it off, his prized possession, a rare Edgar Allen Poe manuscript, is stolen after a late night binge. Then, something unexpected happens. A baby is left inside his store. This is where the story truly begins.
The book shows why we love, why others are more important than self. It does this through the lens of a bookstore. With the advent of the book section at Wal-Mart to Amazon.com, the local bookstore is becoming rare. Mostly, these stores from a different age are all but extinct. I don’t think people understand how hard it is to open a business. The job is more about inventory and marketing than it is reading. People that truly love books aren’t necessarily compatible with store ownership. After getting into it, you feel that you read less and market more. That could be why the industry is challenged. Book stores are closing. Margins are being squeezed. It takes a special person to keep this business model afloat. Let’s hope bookstores never die. These brick and mortar places have far reaching impact. A.J. shows this like no other.
Sadly, the only store in my town closed its doors years ago. I remember the 80s tune, You don’t know what you got until its gone. I think that is what makes A.J’s store, Island Books, special. Books are more than just pages. They bring people together. A.J. impacts the local high school, starts a reading group for cops, and shows what it means to be a father, not just to a little girl but to a town. As a kid, I remember stopping by the gas station with my father. Yep, it was full-service. They don’t make them like this anymore. Blame it on the convenience store. Grab your Snickers bar and 20 oz Coke. Then, move along. But in the full service store, the same folks spent hours talking. No matter the time of day, they would be there. It didn’t matter what they were talking about, it was the art of conversation/the act of knowing that was meaningful. I’m not sure we have that anymore. We text. Post on FaceBook. We need to learn to talk again before we forget how.
This book does have a few twists and the ending still has me in knots. I thought it was unnecessary, almost brutal, at first pass. It could be I was caught up in the moment. Thinking back, the ending hit the right cord and keeps with the theme that it is not ourselves that matter. It is who we impact that lives on. Highly recommended.