Books and a Babe: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (review)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books

What’s better than a book recommendation from a book-lovin’ friend? Nothing. So as soon as a friend wrote on my Facebook wall that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was fast and fun and right up my alley, I was on it. Plus I’m a sucker for any book set in a bookstore.

Storied Life of A.J. FikryA.J. Fikry is rudderless. Wife Nic has just died in an auto accident, his bookstore Island Books is barely keeping its nose above water. Life is pretty grim when in walks his new Knightly Publishing rep Amelia Loman with the list of winter books. He’s not welcoming, to put it mildly (grief and social niceties are usually at odds); rebuffed, Amelia leaves assuming she won’t be calling on Island Books again any time soon.

But before things get better, they get worse when A.J.’s prized possession, a first edition of Poe’s Tamerlane, is stolen. Then—a toddler is left on his doorstep with a note from her mother: “I want Maya to grow up to be a reader … I love her very much but I can no longer take care of her … I am desperate …” and quick as you can say “Silas Marner” A.J. is a dad. A bumbling, curmudgeonly, single dad who despises Elmo and has never changed a diaper.

And, yes, readers all—The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a modern day Silas Marner. The references come fast and furious. Maya enters through an unlocked door. Both Marner and A.J. suffer from some sort of seizure disorder that leaves them, well, blank, for a few moments. Maya opens A.J. to the warm embrace of the Alice Island community and the love of a woman. While he lost his earthly treasure, he gained a more precious gift. Any more parallels and I’d need to insert [spoiler alert]—but then if you know Silas Marner, you know how the plot unfolds in A.J. Fikry.

Gabrielle Zevin’s novel is fast and fun and scattered with did-you-catch-‘em literary references. (A.J. goes on a date to a restaurant named Queequeg, for instance) Each chapter begins with a short book review written by the store owner. The trials and tribulations of life in an independent bookstore were spot on from what I remember about my own book selling days. And, yes, friend, it was right up my alley.

A novel scrapbook: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt (review)

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt
Caroline Preston
Harper Collins

One of my most precious possessions is a “School Friendship Book” I found at a flea market several years ago. It is the real deal. None of this photos cropped, matted, and embellished with stickers stuff that we do today.  No, this is a leather journal-sized wonder with dusty manilla paper pages, warped with age and crammed with mementos. It belonged to one Avis B. from Elkhart, Indiana, Class of 1923. Pages are filled with handwritten notes, poems, and remembrances from teachers and students at Elkhart High School. But the fun starts about halfway where Avis taped and glued the following:
An invitation to Bea’s party (“Oh boy, oh joy, did we have fun!)
cut-out construction paper hearts (“Valentine’s party had a swell time”)
Elkhart High Athletic Association membership tickets
cut-out EHS cheers from the school newspaper (“Hit ’em on the elbow/hit ’em on the jaw/Cemetery, Cemetery/Rah! Rah! Rah!)
newspaper articles about sporting events, Jollies, and plays
curly lock of gorgeous auburn hair
Camel cigarette (“Lavon Holdeman June 1923”)
fabric shamrock (another “swell time–why? Oh that would be telling!”)
lock of her own “golden locks”
Christmas card
Halloween paper cupcake topper/favor
and a dozen or more circa 1921-23 photos of girls, and one photo of a saxaphone-playing young man. See why it’s so precious?

FrankieSo imagine my incredible delight when I found Caroline Preston’s The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt recently at my local bookstore–used, in great Frankie3condition, and only nine dollars! (It was also curiously mis-filed because it was in the Book Club section, not in the used books, which in my mind, means it was meant to be mine.) I’m often late to the party, so this is my first encounter with Frankie which was published in 2011. Oh. My-lanta. I might have even gasped aloud softly when I saw it. I bought it for the novelty, assuming I’d just look at the pretty pictures and layouts one afternoon and be done with it. Except it’s a novel. Really–the scrapbook actually reads like one. And of course I can’t help but connect Frankie Pratt to my Avis.

It’s not high literature. There’s no complex plot twists or turns. But if you’re looking for something to read just for sheer fun of it?  You’ll love Frankie Pratt, I’m sure.