Discovering a Novel that Helped Define My Love of Books

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By BOB VICKREY

Special to Circling the News

 

Avid readers share a major character flaw in the way we romanticize the world of books.

We’re almost like evangelicals who have just discovered religion and feel compelled to spread its message. In similar fashion, we feel obliged to share the news about the latest exciting new book we’ve just finished. While we do ask for your indulgence, you must be forewarned—there is no known cure for this annoying affliction.

As for my own personal contribution to this habit, I feel I must be granted an exemption since I spent a good portion of my adult life as a publisher’s rep, and my sole job was spreading the word about the books our company was publishing.

Just recently, an old publishing friend recommended a novel entitled “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” which I had never heard of that was published to little fanfare in 2014.

The first time he recommended the book, I thought he was saying “A.J. Vickrey,” and was mentioning it only because my last name happened to be in the title. Later, he clarified his endorsement and offered the correct spelling of “Fikry.” I reluctantly accepted the fact the book was not, in fact, a fictionalized account of my own not-so-storied book career.

After I began reading “The Storied Life”, I realized immediately why my friend Schuy had wanted me to immerse myself in this wonderful, uplifting story, which is all about books and the business of bookselling.

I asked my friend Katie, who had once owned our town’s much-beloved Village Books, if she was aware of it. She told me that she loved the novel so much that she had made it one of her book club selections. It seemed such an appropriate choice since many of her book club members had at one time worked in a bookstore.

I found Gabrielle Zevin’s “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” to be essentially a love letter to all those who are fond of books and bookstores. It is a celebration for those who take pleasure in reading, writing and storytelling. While the central “character” may be a bookstore, the story is also about discovering renewed hope and the importance of second chances.

A.J. Fikry is a middle-aged single man who owns Island Books, the only bookstore in the small town of Alice Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts. He has recently suffered the loss of his wife and bookstore partner, and his loss has left him bitter toward his friends and customers—and pretty much the world in general. But a series of dramatic events occur, including an anonymous gift left in one of the aisles of his bookstore, that ultimately begins to reshape his view of the world and offer him hope once again.

A.J. has grown attracted to a young publisher’s rep for Knightly Press who visits his store several times a year to present the new books from her company catalog. Amelia Loman is a smart and savvy woman who can easily match wits with A.J., but it is their burgeoning relationship that helps him begin to emerge from his long depression.

An unlikely supporter of the bookstore is local Police Chief Nicholas Lambiase, who has been a reluctant reader all his life—with the exception of reading an occasional detective novel. The Chief becomes a regular customer and begins to expand his reading interests based on many of A.J.’s recommendations. Lambiase begins to feel so at home in the store that he forms his own successful book club, “Chief’s Choice.”

When the store eventually faces the risk of closing and its fate hangs in the balance, Lambiase tries to persuade his new wife Ismay that they should buy the store and continue A.J.’s legacy for the sake of Alice Island. She remains unconvinced.

Lambiase pleads, “I really like bookstores. I meet a lot of people there. There ain’t anybody in the world like book people. I don’t know, Izzie; I’m telling you that bookstores attract the right kind of folk. I like talking about books with people who like talking about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. I even like how a new book smells.”

Ismay asks, “Are you sure you’re up to this?” Lambiase leans toward her and says, “I’ve lived in Alice my whole life. It is the only place I’ve ever known. It’s a nice place and I intend to keep it that way. A place ain’t a place without a bookstore.”

Many of us book lovers have come to feel the same way as Chief Lambiase about our local bookstores. Thanks for reminding us Chief.

Katie O’Laughlin was the owner of the much beloved Village Books, an independent bookstore that was located on Swarthmore Avenue.

Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. His long-running “Lunch Club” series was published by the Palisades News. You can find more columns on his website:  bobvickrey.net

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2 Responses to Discovering a Novel that Helped Define My Love of Books

  1. Susan Kanowith-Klein says:

    When I read “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikrey” years ago, I knew exactly the kind of book store Zevin was writing about. After all we had Village Books. How I miss Katie’s bookstore and the wonderful people met there!

  2. Mary Rapoport says:

    Bob, I read this book many years ago and loved it. Reading your response to it today brought its sweetness and kink back to me, a second taste of a remembered pleasure. Thank you.

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