reading

She Never Calls, She Never Writes…

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Why hello there! I know, I know, I’ve been out of touch. It’s been a few weeks. I thought I’d use this book reviewing interim to give you a brief update about me. And then, we’ll get on to the books. As always.

Why have I skipped a few posts, you ask? In short, life is good. I’m exercising. I’m wearing yoga leggings more often that I should, drinking juices, and I’ve lost ten pounds. Just a tiny (TINY!) bit of Scottsdale’s jock-iness is rubbing off on me. This city is nothing if it is not in love with its gym time.

And I’ve joined the millions of (un)happy singles who are online dating! That is right. So much of the time once spent alone with a book in bed is now spent swiping through strangers, and texting random people that could actually be serial killers. Just trying to find out if their pets have interesting names, if they obsessively drink water and iced coffee as much as I do, and (most importantly) if they even READ, bro.

By far the most wonderful gift online dating has given me thus far is interesting conversation fodder for work. I think this is a legitimate gift. I’ve been going on dates, meeting humans. Just fellow people spinning around on this big planet, trying to find that one person who completes them so totally then can get off this crazy train called dating and settle down. No pressure though! I’ve met men wearing footwear, some of it reasonable. Some of it, not so much!

What does this have to do with books, Kali? This is what you are asking me. And I am hearing your cries. There is only so much reading one can fit in a day full of school and exercise and work and texting strangers about their hobbies. But I’m reading, as always. Here and there, on audiobooks and before bed and on lunch breaks.

Another very small but exciting point of note. I have finally busted through the glass ceiling of book reviews, and made it into the Goodreads top 1,000 reviewers. Praise jesus, I’ve only been working at it for several years of my life.

So, let’s get into some book talk. I’m finishing up the bizarre and brilliant Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide, expect my review soon. I absolutely need his new book, How To Set A Fire And Why. Whoever first gets me an ARC can have one of my cats. Just kidding! You can have my firstborn child instead. I just finished the shocking Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover for school, and this is an old but good nonfiction exposé and worth checking out if you haven’t heard of it. I’ve been waiting to cross-post my review of Sudden Death, a cerebral historical literary tennis novel (oh yes!) by Álvaro Enrigue, from the San Francisco Book Review. And once it is published there, I will repost it here for your reading pleasure. And Animal Money. Have y’all heard about Animal Money yet? I might be reading it forever with the amount of books I have on my plate, but it is out there in the best of ways.

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Review – The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

the storied life

I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be—basically gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and — I imagine this goes without saying — vampires.
― Gabrielle ZevinThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

If you are still pining for Ajax Penumbra, the lovable curmudgeon of a bookstore owner introduced in Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, than The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is the book for you. We meet protagonist Fikry as he seems to be drinking, eating, and grouching himself to death. As the owner of Island Books, his community’s only bookstore, he stocks books strictly to his limited tastes. He lives above the bookstore, and he frequently blacks out over his plate of frozen noodles after an evening of heavy drinking alone.

And then, an unfortunate (or fortunate?) series of events occurs: something is lost, and a little baby is gained. The mom abandons the baby to Fikry, hoping to give the charming tiny girl an opportunity to grow up amidst books and become quite a smart person someday. Yes, this explains the little baby in a basket on the book’s cover. As Fikry finds himself frantically googling how to raise a 2-year-old baby, the community rallies around him and his charming mystery child. Like magic, the irritable old man settles into his place in the world as a book lover who spreads that love to others, the curious baby reminding him that he has knowledge to share.

I knew I had to get this book when I received its (audio version) press release, with a quote from Scott Brick, the book’s narrator and my favorite narrator of all time, singing the novel’s praises:

I was told up front that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was a beautiful book, but I was still completely unprepared for just how beautiful. I was absolutely stunned by the experience of narrating Gabrielle Zevin’s latest book. It drew me in from the very first page. It was the kind of book that I might ordinarily find myself finishing after only three days in the studio, yet I found myself stretching it to four, then five, simply because I hated the idea of it being over. I wept while recording it, more than once. I’ve been blessed to narrate over 600 audiobooks thus far, and this book instantly pushed its way to the top of my list of absolute favorites. I told someone recently that I wish I could redo the book, and they asked, ‘Why, did you not like the way it turned out?’ I said ‘No, I just wish I could have that experience of reading every word again over and over again.’

Wow, right? If Scott Brick loved it that much, I’m all in. Although I didn’t get the audiobook version, the novel totally drew me in from its first pages, and I drank up the entire book over the course of a few days. The combination of flawed, honest, real characters and constant fiction references made for quite fun reading. Despite all the wit, there is a lot of heartbreak here, and I can usually do without a bit more of the sappy stuff. I appreciated Fikry’s clever banter with those around him much more than the commentary on love and loss. But beware, if you are the teary type–get your tissues ready.

The brilliance of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is in its book talk, as this is a book written for readers to truly appreciate. Fikry knows the town’s sheriff enjoys mysteries, and gradually suggests more complex mysteries until the policeman is reading Kate Atkinson’s Case HistoriesFinally the cop leaves genre behind entirely, and runs a book club out of Island Books for his police force. This is what happens to your friends when you are a lover of books, the story seems to be saying–it is impossible for that love not to rub off, even just a little bit, on those around you.

Reading is often isolating, in our world of constant competition for attention, where movies are now in IMAX 3D, video games now read your movements so you don’t even press buttons while you play, and Buzzfeed produces countless lists that spread insidiously through the internet just begging to be read like little itchy viruses. When so many things with bright lights and big noise compete for our spare time, reading for pleasure can sometimes get left behind with its quiet little books snuggled onto shelves or hidden within a flat e-reader. But books like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry are a secret duck call to all the readers out there in the world, reminding us how powerful our pastime is, and how much stories matter. Human connections are made, vibrant discussions develop, and babies who read books blossom into book-loving writers themselves. Reading is, perhaps more than any other pastime, a study of human nature and human experience, and this is something The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry celebrates on every witty, heartbreaking page.

If you live in my home state of California, this is a great book to pick up at a local bookstore on May 3rd, CA Bookstore Day. What better way to celebrate the power of bookstores than with the story of Island Books and its owner.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin on Amazon.com/Indiebound.org

Further reading:

Why hello there!

I’m a lover of books. I can’t stop reading them, telling people (who aren’t asking) about them, buying them, selling them, browsing them, adding them to wishlists, checking them off my lists, reading reviews of them, listening to them. I’m creating this little site to share my love with you – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I mainly read mystery (currently Broken Harbor by Tana French, just finished Red Dragon by Thomas Harris), popular fiction (on my to-read shelf: the first four Game of Thrones novels by George R. R. Martin), literary fiction (trawling through 2666 by Roberto Bolano, just started and then sort of put off Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, listening to The Dinner by Herman Koch), memoir (currently in the middle of In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler), and non-fiction and essays (on the to-read shelf: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and currently in the middle of How to Be Alone by Johnathan Franzen). Oh, and I love a good science fiction or speculative fiction story but for some reason these aren’t in my spotlight right now.

This site will be full of reviews that I won’t insist to be unbiased, chock full of my own opinions. I like to take into account our current cultural climate while considering the medium and the message of the books I read.

All for now.