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. 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. 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 him or for a determined sales rep named Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light. The wisdom of all those books again become the lifeblood of A.J.’s world and everything twists into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.
I always really enjoy reading books about books, so I had high expectations for this book. Due to the fact that A.J. Fikry is a bookseller, I knew there would be copious references to literature, and of course there were. However, I think because of my elevated expectations, I was a little let down by this book.
This is the story of how a crabby, depressed man gets a second chance at life with one momentous gift. He gets a chance to change his life and rebuild it into something different. While the writing was beautiful, I felt like there was something lacking in this book. It was charming and quaint, and the town that A.J. lives in, Alice Island, was cozy and filled with these vivid secondary characters. The way that A.J. was written made you feel like you really knew him and watching him morph into a better version of himself was really rewarding. I also loved the side characters, Lambiase being my favourite. There is also some really interesting commentary in this novel about indie bookstores versus the prevalence of e-readers and e-books, and I thought it was handled in a graceful manner.
I thought the plot was also a perfect mix of sentimentality and seriousness. The writing was quiet but powerful and reading about life in a small town made me want to be a part of it because they were such a close-knit community, but the big problem I had with this book was that there was something a little too closed off about it. I was never drawn into the story and while I adored the characters and wanted to know them, I still felt like I was watching them from the sidelines. There was something missing when it came to engaging the reader.
I think this book is still a really solid addition to the contemporary genre, and I will be reading more of Gabrielle Zevin’s novels because I really enjoyed her writing style. I recommend this book to everyone who is looking for a bit of light, charming literature about books and bookselling.