So Many Books, So Little Time: ‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,’ by Gabrielle Zevin

Violetta Armour

If you are reading a book review column, I assume you enjoy reading. Furthermore, safe to assume that The Storied Life of A.J. Firky will have great appeal to you. As one reviewer claims, “… this book is a love letter to the joys of reading.”

AJ, owner of a small bookstore on a fictional remote island in the northeast, is of the belief that “You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to one question. What is your favorite book?”

When we first meet AJ, at age 39, he has lost his wife in an accident. She was both his soulmate and business partner. Book sales are down, his alcohol consumption is up, and he is becoming more despondent by the day. The final blow fate deals him is when someone steals his copy of Tamerlane, a rare and valuable edition of Edgar Allen Poe poems. This was his nest egg, his retirement, his security. Not only is his present situation miserable, but it appears his future will be also.

Yet in the depths of his despair, he finds an abandoned toddler in the children’s section immersed in the pages of Where the Wild Things Are. Beside the toddler is a well-worn Elmo doll with a note pinned to its matted red chest. The note reads, “To the Owner of the Bookstore: This is Maya. She is 25 months old. She is very smart, exceptionally verbal for her age, and I want her to grow up to be a reader. I want her to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those kinds of things. I love her but I can no longer take care of her. Signed Maya’s mother.”

AJ is dumbfounded and takes Maya to the local police station. Police Chief Lamblase sets a plan into motion for Child and Family Services to take the baby until the mother can be found. But getting to a remote island, accessible only by ferry, in a storm on a Friday night is not the easiest thing to do. By Monday morning, AJ is smitten, and so begins the story of their life together. It is one of the three love stories in this novel. Also, there are a few mysteries to be solved: Who stole the book and where is the baby’s mother?

The theme, the power of stories in our lives, is carried out as each chapter is introduced with a short story title and AJ’s reflections after reading each one, wisdom he wishes to impart to his daughter.

I tend to agree with AJ: that you will know all you need to know about a person by how they answer that one question. So, don’t be surprised when I see you around the neighborhood and ask, “What was your favorite book?” Just trying to get to know you.