Please note that this book is also called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in the US!
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry was loaned to me by a colleague who thought I’d enjoy it because it had been compared to The Book Thief. As soon as I saw what it was about – a disgruntled, unhappy man; an independent bookshop; a stolen rare copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane; and a baby among the book stacks – I straight away added it to my list of 25 Books for Book Lovers.
If you’re reading this review, you’re likely a fellow book blogger, or publisher, or librarian, or bookseller. If so, you’ll appreciate that The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry takes complete hold of the book industry and illuminates it for everyone else to see (sometimes with brutal honesty!), such as sales reps, ARCs, author events, young adult fiction (let’s just say that A.J. Fikry is not exactly a fan) and the snobbish attitude that we’ve all come across from those who judge other people’s reading preferences. A.J. Fikry probably would not have wanted to be friends with me, what with him preferring literary short stories and me preferring children’s literature. He is not perfect, despite his bookishness, which is a fascinating change as book lovers are often portrayed as the heroes in literature. He is, instead, rude, old-fashioned and pretentious, but that is not to say that we’re meant to despise him! A.J. actually has a good reason for why he is so reclusive and bitter – his wife, whose idea it was to open up Island Books on Alice Island, died – and so he is lonely and understandably angry at humanity – that is, until baby Maya mysteriously appears!
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, much to my surprise, is not really about what books can do for people, but what people can do for each other – it’s a wonderful, touching tale of a close community on an isolated island. Yet the fact that the book industry is such an important part of the story is the reason I am giving it five stars. I want to run out and buy my own copy; I adore the cover and I want to be able to look back through it and mark my favourite quotes. Luckily my fellow Goodreads users have started adding some too:
“Do you like Moby Dick,” he asks.
“I hate it,” she says. “And I don’t say that about many things. Teachers assign it, and parents are happy because their kids are reading something of ‘quality’. But it’s forcing kids to read books like that that make them think they hate reading.”
You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: “What is your favourite book?”
At the start of each chapter, we see A.J. Fikry recall his personal thoughts about certain books, which is a wonderful addition that highlights just how personal choosing, reading and recommending a book is. The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, aside from the bookishness, is about how one man deals with the arrival of a baby, who arrives with nothing but a note saying that he should take care of her. It’s his time to step up, be responsible and take control, something that he’s managed to avoid so far, since the only person he’s had to take care of is himself, and he hasn’t managed to do that very well so far either. It’s about his sister-in-law, who is struggling to step away, a focused young sales rep and a charming police chief. It’s a sweet story and one I’ll be telling my blogger and publisher friends to pick up for a while yet. Now, which bookshop shall I purchase my copy from?!
Published: 13th March 2014 (UK) 1st April 2014 (US)
Publisher: Little, Brown (UK) Alonquin Books (US)