There was the time a grandmother came in hunting a book to help her grandchild sleep, because the little one had been terrified by the bats she saw flying around in her grand's yard.... and so I recommended Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. It wasn't long before I heard back that the child now wanted to sleep outside so she could watch the bats.
Every bookseller has stories like these, those moments that make the hours of unpacking and shelving books and rearranging and sweeping and doing all the boring bits of the job so very much worth it. There have been novels about bookshops and booksellers before, most of which made what we do feel so precious, or who we are so bizarre, that they've been silly.
But I knew this one must be different, for after my co-worker had finished reading the galley she brought it back to the shop so that I could read it, too. That's not the way things ordinarily go. We take the galleys we want, and we rarely fuss over them, because she and I have mostly different taste in what we wish to read. Furthermore, in a small shop like ours, it makes no sense for everyone to read the same books all the time. We give each other reports on what we read, including the customers for whom we believe a book will be a perfect match.
So when she brought this one back I knew I needed to make room for it straightaway.
Widower A.J. Fikry has a small bookshop in an old cottage on Alice Island, one for which he has largely lost all enthusiasm. An unexpected delivery and the attention of a particularly enthusiastic publisher's rep provide him with a second wind for life, and for bookselling.
Fortunately, Zevin doesn't load this up with cutesy "aren't booksellers special?" stuff, nor does it read like a series of insider jokes. It's a small novel, full of good humor, a bigger story than you might expect, and is just a delight.
I find it difficult to share favorite lines from novels because so often they come at a pivotal plot turn and to share them feels like giving something away, but here's one I took the trouble to grab pen and paper to jot down.
"We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again."
No disappointment here. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a charming, life-affirming, lovely novel, that serves as testament to how much we booksellers love what we do, and how deeply we care about the people for whom we do it.
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: April 1, 2014