Sunday, April 13, 2014

Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Are you a book lover?  I am.  Ever since I learned how to read I've never been without something
to read close at hand.  There is a book of short stories tucked into a nook in each car just in case.  When I go on a trip the tote of books is the first thing I pack,  after the trip to the library to pick out an audio book to listen to if we're driving. I own thousands of books.  Enough that the grands tell me "Grandma, you live in a library." I do, and they love it, too.

I love bookstores.  They make me happy.  They calm me on rough days.  I need only to step inside the door and take a deep breath.  I've noticed people who go to bookstores are good, considerate and polite people (except the ones who insist on talking on their cell phones about nothing important, bothering the browsing of the rest of us.)  I like striking up a conversation with customers who are in the same section I'm in.

That's probably why this book struck me so. 

   A.J. Fikry, when we meet him, is a mess. His wife just died, he is dealing with his grief by being very crabby and drinking himself to sleep, he's a young curmudgeon and his little bookstore on Alice Island is not doing well.  And as if bad luck breeds bad luck, one day a prized, very valuable, very coddled book is stolen.  And if that's not enough, one day he walks into his store and finds a two year old child with a note attached.  Topping it all off, his favorite sales rep is replaced with .... a woman!

   This is the story of A.J. Fikry and his Island Bookstore and the people on this little island.  It's as much a story of books, because at each chapter head there is a note from A.J. with one of his short story recommendations  (he dislikes just about anything and at first is very snotty about it, but loves and respects the short story) as it is A.J.'s story.

   But the thing that really struck me was the sense of community this little store on this little island is the center of.  People who never read before now run book groups.  Author visits are now encouraged and attended. A.J. now recognizes the preferences of the people on the island and stocks their likes.  His business grows, even during the off season when the tourists have gone home.

    A bookstore is a heart of any community.  Some hearts beat faster than others and some are stronger than others. But it beats. The blood is the people who flow into and out of the doors every day. Without those people, the heart can't beat and sadly that's the way things are turning for book lovers.  Maybe this book struck a chord because we are losing our bookstores.

    Within two months two favorite bookstores in Grand Rapids closed.  One closed a branch, leaving half of the city without a bookstore.  Yes, I will drive the extra ten miles to get to the other branch, but it's not the same as having a store in the neighborhood.

   The other store is so near and dear to my heart it truly breaks my heart to see it go.  This store, Pooh's Corner, in Grand Rapids, truly is/was the heartbeat of children's literature. There wasn't a curmudgeon among the booksellers, they loved children and their books too much to be crabby. Their collective knowledge was unsurpassed anywhere. I started taking my children there when they opened 38 years ago and my daughter has been taking our grandgirls since they've been born.  I even worked there for about 4 years.  Losing this is like a death in the family.

  I will, for the sake of full disclosure say that I read this book on my eReader as a review copy sent to me by the publisher so I could read and comment on it.  But you know what?  I'm going to go out and buy this one so I can also have it in my hands and on my shelf and can talk about it.

   Like in A.J.'s life, ebooks are taking over, buying online is so common it hardly bears mentioning.But browsing online isn't browsing in a bookstore.  And if browsing online is the way it's going to be, then we are going to lose all of our bookstores.

    And that means the heart stops.

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