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

“A place is not really a place without a bookstore.”

tumblr_omegnlbzpf1vyjupno10_400The beginning of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry was the most fun I had reading a fiction book since the start of this year. What compelled me to give it a go was seeing this next quote shared online:

“People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”

And I’m forevermore grateful because what followed was something I couldn’t have possibly foreseen: I laughed, teared up, cackled, and became super invested in the lives of this incredible cast of characters, both supporting and leading, from Alice Island. The blurb does an excellent job of capturing their defining moments:

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I was drawn to the beginning of this book a lot thanks to the numerous laugh-out-loud moments when the main character kept breaking the fourth wall left and right.

“My wife and I,” A.J. replied without thinking. “Oh Christ, I just did that stupid thing where the character forgets that the spouse has died and he accidentally uses ‘we.’ That’s such a cliché. Officer”—he paused to read the cop’s badge—“Lambiase, you and I are characters in a bad novel. Do you know that? How the heck did we end up here? You’re probably thinking to yourself, Poor bastard, and tonight you’ll hug your kids extra tight because that’s what characters in these kinds of novels do. You know the kind of book I’m talking about, right? The kind of hotshot literary fiction that, like, follows some unimportant supporting character for a bit so it looks all Faulkneresque and expansive. Look how the author cares for the little people! The common man! How broad-minded he or she must be! Even your name. Officer Lambiase is the perfect name for a clichéd Massachusetts cop. Are you racist, Lambiase? Because your kind of character ought to be racist.”

This made me throw my head back with laughter. INCREDIBLE.

I went into this book so hesitant because I thought it would read exactly like what the author was making fun of in the above paragraph… But needless to say, I was more than mislead. The last time I felt this same amount of surprise was when I finally caved in to watch the film Deadpool (which is the last thing I thought I’d be comparing this book with), and was utterly blown away with its crass and precise humor.

And the same type of wit is being used by our main character, the snarky and grumpy A. J. Fikry.

Aside from appreciating the more comical moments, I also enjoyed Gabrielle Zevin’s swift novel for making each chapter feel like a short story. Similar to how the Netflix tv series, Master of None uses each episode to explore a different theme (which I’ll talk about extensively in my May Wrap Up, coming in the next couple of days on my blog), this book dived into the notions of fatherhood, grief, love, friendship, book people and lovers, and so much more.

Plus, A. J. Fikry’s short reviews to his “dear little nerds” interspersed at the start of a new chapter made reading the book that more enjoyable. A. J. had always something noteworthy written down that would make me think for days to come.

“My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.”

This standout of a novel was full of eclectic, charming, mismatched characters with the addition of memorable quotes to ponder (I nearly underlined every other line), and twists and turns at each corner, promising to really do a number on your mind. But at the heart of it all, there’s a quiet allure to this world Zevin created that held me glued to the pages, completely rapt, till I reached that dreaded last page. And to conclude, reading about these lovely nerds, who perfectly get my love for reading, was a comfort for my soul. I feel like this next quote sums up my chance encounter with this read pretty well: “the necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives.” I’m beyond grateful that I had the joy to discover The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Dancers Among Us by Jordan Matter

“Dancers are storytellers.” 

In one thrilling photograph after another, Dancers Among Us presents professional dancers from across the country–leaping, spinning, lifting, kicking, while in the midst of daily living.

There’s no photo manipulation here, no trampolines, no gimmicks, no tricks. Just a photographer, his vision, and the serendipity of what happens when the shutter clicks.

I went into this not knowing what to expect, but was ultimately blown away by the sheer joy and awe I felt just flipping from page to page in this book. The seemingly effortless and effervescent way the dancers were captured by Jordan Matter made my head spin.

Divided into seven parts with short essays by the author accompanying each one, I was quickly swept up inside this world where everything seemed to be vibrant, sparkling and moving. There’s also a lovely dose of quotes from well-known individuals sprinkled throughout Dancers Among Us.

But for now I’d like to focus on those bits and pieces that most pierced my heart:

#1: Rise Above It All
Michelle Fleet
New York, New YorkDancers Among Us 1-- bookspoils
#2: Opening Night
Parisa Khobdeh
New York, New YorkDancers Among Us 2-- bookspoils

#3: Big Day
Kristin DeCesare, Jessica Press
New York, New YorkDancers Among Us 3-- bookspoils

#4: Mama’s Boy
Sun Chong, with his mother
Washington, DCDancers Among Us 4-- bookspoils

#5: Vista
Evgeniya Chernukhina
New York, New York
Dancers Among Us 5-- bookspoils

#6: Save the Day
Ricardo Rhodes
Sarasota, Florida
Dancers Among Us 6-- bookspoils

#7: Saving Lives
Duncan Lyle
Boston, MassachusettsDancers Among Us 7-- bookspoilsI stared at the above picture for an hour trying to figure out how it looks so damn effortless.

#8: Transfer
Jeffrey Smith
New York, New York
Dancers Among Us 8-- bookspoils

#9: Park It
B-boy Gentl Minsung Kim
New York, New York
Dancers Among Us 9-- bookspoils

#10: Close Shave
Alyssa Desamais
Montreal, Canada
Dancers Among Us 10-- bookspoils

#11: Book Worm
Casia Vengoechea
New York, New YorkDancers Among Us 11-- bookspoils

#12: Cram Session
Michelle Fleet
New York, New YorkDancers Among Us 12-- bookspoils


However, the one thing I kept wondering throughout was what happened the second after the shutter clicked… Like, how did the dancers get out of their position safely?
But thankfully the author included a section at the end titled “about the photographs.” So if you’re interested in knowing more context about the inspirations or ideas behind any particular photo, you can just check out said section at the end of the book. It’s utterly brilliant and adds immense depth to each picture.

4/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Dancers Among Us, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories by Etgar Keret

A collection of Jewish, Israeli and magical realism short stories sounded just like my kind of thing. Etgar Keret’s The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories stings and thrills with fierce fables of modern life. And I had no idea going into this, but it turned out that I was already familiar with the author’s writing from school back when we’d read “Breaking the Pig.” So when I stumbled upon said short story in here, I was beyond joyful to have everything come back.

The author, without a doubt, knows his stuff. Brief, intense, painfully funny, and shockingly honest, Keret’s stories are snapshots that illuminate with intelligence and wit the hidden truths of life. From having a shitty angel friend (“That’s when he finally understood that of all the things the angel had told him, nothing was true. That he wasn’t even an angel, just a liar with wings.”) to joining the circus to Holocaust Memorial Day to someone’s struggle with their compulsive good-heartedness, these swift tales captivated me and reminded me of everything I know and everything I still don’t.

With all that I loved, however, I still think I made a mistake deciding to read the English translation of this collection because it kind of made the writing lose a bit of its magic. From what I recall of reading Keret in school, his humor is better conveyed in the original language. And I just kept thinking throughout that I should’ve read this in Hebrew.

But on a more positive note, I cherished it immensely when strong emotions where evoked out of me while reading. I laughed, raged, rolled my eyes and connected with so many stories and little moments within them.
Moments such as capturing the love we feel for home-cooked meals:

“There’s something nice about home cooking. I mean, it’s hard to explain, but there’s something special about it, a feeling. As if your stomach can figure out that it’s food you didn’t have to pay for, that someone actually made it out of love. ”

To feeling that palpable rage against Nazi German bastards, especially on Holocaust Memorial Day:

“Then an old skinny man got on the stage and told us what bastards and murderers the Nazis were and how he took revenge on them, and even strangled a soldier with his own hands until he died. Jerby, who was sitting next to me, said the old man was lying; the way he looks, there’s no way he can make any soldier bite the dust. But I looked the old man in the eye and believed him. He had so much anger in his eyes, that all the violent rage of iron-pumping hoods I’ve seen seemed like small change in comparison.”

“Finally, when he finished telling us what he had done during the Holocaust, the old man said that what we had just heard was relevant not only to the past but also for what goes on now, because the Germans still exist and still have a state. He said he was never going to forgive them, and that he hoped we, too, would never ever go visit their country. Because when he went with his parents to Germany fifty years ago everything looked nice, but it ended in hell. People have short memories, he said, especially when bad things are concerned. People tend to forget, he said, but you won’t forget. Every time you see a German, you’ll remember what I told you. Every time you see German products, be it television (since most televisions here are made by German manufacturers) or anything else, you’ll always remember that underneath the elegant wrapping are hidden parts and tubes made of bones and skin and flesh of dead Jews.”

And then wrapping the collection up with a good ol’ case of tragicomedy when a man is fed up of being compared his whole life to another “Just like me, only a tiny bit better”:

“We’re about to land, sir. I insist you return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt, like . . .” True, she went on to say “like all the other passengers,” but what I saw in her eyes was Katzenstein. I pushed down on the lever and forced the door open with my shoulder. I was perfectly calm as I was sucked out, leaving all hell behind me.
Suicide is still considered a dreadful sin in the Afterlife. I begged them to try and understand, but they wouldn’t listen. As they were dragging me to Hell, there was Katzenstein. Him and the other passengers, waving at me through the window of the tour bus that was taking them to Heaven. The plane had crashed as it hit the ground, about fifteen minutes after I’d bailed out. A rare malfunction. One in a million. If only I’d stuck it out in my seat another few seconds, like all the other passengers. Like Katzenstein.”


All in all: These stories were real and vulgar and undeniably sincere. I can’t wait to read more of Keret’s writing in the near future.

3.5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!