I know we said, back in November, that the Field Notes Book Group was going to read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance for the January selection. However, having waded through A Fine Balance and feeling that it was too depressing to spend an hour and a half discussion, and after consultation with members of the book group, we’ve changed our January selection to The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.
Not only is this book much happier than A Fine Balance, but it’s substantially shorter, and can be easily read in the time between now and January 21, and there are numerous copies available at the library for checkout.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, which happens to satisfy one of the categories for the 2017 Reading Challenge (for those who are participating: the category is “Read a book about books”), starts with our protagonist, A. J. Fikry, in a really bad situation. His wife died in a car accident, his bookstore is failing, he’s drinking too much and he’s utterly miserable. He’s even pushing away people who want to help him, like the town’s police officer and the new publisher’s representative who visits his store. He thinks he’s found a way out: his first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s first book. He could, he figures, sell it and use the proceeds to get off the island where he lives, where too many of his memories of his happier life remain. But then his first edition is stolen and the thieves can’t be found, and he feels he’s hit rock bottom.
Of course, this is when a baby is left in his bookstore by her despondent mother, who subsequently commits suicide (you’re thinking, “Wait! You said this is a happier book!” and all I can say is, this is the setup, and things do get better). A. J., despite himself, decides to keep the baby, who’s named Maya, and bring her up even though he’d be a single father with an irregular income and no prior experience with raising children.
And thus begins a tale of A. J.’s transformation and Maya’s growing up and the changes these things bring to the town and the people A. J.’s come into contact with. His sister-in-law, Ismay, her husband the once famous author, the police chief, the bookseller’s representative and many other characters come to life in this book which reflects on the importance of books and bookstores as well as the importance of our connections to each other.
Come and read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry and then join us on January 21 from 11 to 12:30 to share discussion and snacks.