A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books, has recently endured some tough years: his wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and his prized possession--a rare edition of Poe poems--has been stolen. Over time, he has given up on people, and even the books in his store, instead of offering solace, are yet another reminder of a world that is changing too rapidly. Until a most unexpected occurrence gives him the chance to make his life over and see things anew.
“Mr. Fikry, please just tell me what you like.”
“Like,” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? 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 — nonfiction only, please. 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. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of the pocketbookrequire me to. For your part, you needn’t tell me about the ‘next big series’ until it is ensconced on the New York Times Best Sellers list.”
Ah, the battle cry of the book snob! I only read serious fiction, dahling but not too long or too short.
A.J. Fikry has nothing but contempt for most people on the small island where he runs a book store. He spends most of his nights getting drunk and trying to kill himself slowly until a baby is left in his bookstore.
I almost stopped reading at this point. If I have a book snob battle cry, it definitely includes a refusal to read books where a baby is the magical answer that solves all life’s problems.
However, I liked that writing in the book, as evidenced by the quote above, so I gave it another chance. I liked the descriptions of the book store.
A.J. begins to stock books because he thinks the women will enjoy discussing them. For a while, the circle responds to contemporary stories about overly capable women trapped in troubled marriages; they like if she has an affair — not that they themselves have (or will admit to having had) affairs. The fun is in judging these women. Women who abandon their children are a bridge too far, although husbands who have terrible accidents are usually received warmly (extra points if he dies, and she finds love again).
There is also a book group made up of law enforcement people who read crime stories and complain about poor procedure. I can relate because that’s how I read medical books.
Overall, I liked the details of this book but was underwhelmed by the overall story.