Barbara Hoffert Talks to Gabrielle Zevin; April LibraryReads | Spotlight


When Knightley Press sales rep Amelia ­Loman takes the gabriellezevin050514ferry to ­Alice Island, she meets A.J. Fikry, the crusty proprietor of Island Books, who’s adamant in his reading tastes and mourning the loss of his wife, Nic. Despite an almost comically bad meeting, Amelia eventually circles back to A.J., but not before he has adopted a toddler abandoned in the bookstore by a mother who wants her to “grow up to be a reader.”

Clearly, Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry celebrates books, but it does more than that. It shows us that, aside from pleasure, aside from information, books afford us company. As A.J. says to his daughter in one of the book notes prefacing each chapter, “To connect, my dear little nerd. Only connect.”

“Bookstores and libraries define a good,” says Zevin. “When you enter one, it’s not about survival, like food or water; it’s about wanting to expand your intellectual and emotional lives and the lives of people you know.” Reading, points out Zevin, has been shown to awaken empathy, especially among young people, something that she appreciates as the author of YA as well as adult fiction. (Elsewhere was an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book.)

storiedlifeajfikry031914Indeed, readers will feel empathy for several of Zevin’s characters, pulled as they are from loved ones. The narrative is certainly joyous, and Zevin hadn’t originally intended to touch so strongly on the issue of loss. But “it’s the law of the universe,” she acknowledges. “You lose, you go on, and there’s growth.” Ultimately, her book triumphs because she is unafraid of such strong emotions; not for her an arch, ironic stance. “Sentimental has become almost a bad word, but I don’t want to read things that don’t make me feel something,” she concludes.

People connect through books partly because of shared sensibility, a term that comes up repeatedly in the narrative. Its absence, for instance, explains Amelia’s troubles with men; how happy can she be with someone who says his most influential reading was Principles of Accounting, Part II? Zevin, who drew the idea of sensibility from Jane Austen, doesn’t use it simply to mean being sensible but “familiarity or, better, ­recognition.”

Not that two people need identical reading tastes to click. Zevin and her partner of 18 years don’t; nor do A.J. and Amelia, or, for that matter, A.J. and the island’s police chief, Lambiase, whose policeman’s book club proves to be one of the book’s most charming aspects. “Some overlap on the Venn diagram is good, but different reading tastes can open you up to different books,” says Zevin. “It’s more about an approach to reading.”

For a purist like A.J., it’s not that books reflect life but that life reflects books; he’s inclined to utter things like, “What a goddamn Danielle Steel move, Nic!” So much for the aesthetic that treats art as a pale and hence misleading reflection of life. Zevin has her own views on the narrative fallacy, our tendency to see meaning or pattern in disparate facts, which presumably makes plot less than realistic. “I believe in the narrative fallacy,” she proclaims. “There’s nothing wrong with seeking stories out of life. We crave it, and books do try to explain the universe to everyone.”

For Zevin, writing, which starts out in isolation, is as much about connecting as reading is. If books help us connect, and connection can lead to love, are books synonymous with love? “Maybe not for everyone, but for me they are,” affirms Zevin. “I sometimes think that falling in love with a person is not so very different from falling in love with a book.”—Barbara Hoffert

April 2014 LibraryReads

1. Zevin, Gabrielle. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Algonquin. ISBN 9781616203214. $24.95. F See LJ’s starred review:

2. Donoghue, Emma. Frog Music. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316324687. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316324663. f
See LJ’s starred review:

3. Glass, Julia. And the Dark Sacred Night. Pantheon. ISBN 9780307377937. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908636. f
See LJ’s starred review:

4. St. James, Simone. Silence for the Dead. NAL. ISBN 9780451419484. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9781101621325. f
See LJ’s starred review:

5. Leon, Donna. By Its Cover: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery. Atlantic Monthly. ISBN 9780802122643. $26. mYS
See LJ’s starred review:

6. Kuhn, Shane. The Intern’s Handbook. S. & S. ISBN 9781476733807. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476733852. f
See Prepub Alert preview:

7. Stibbe, Nina. Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316243391. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316243407. memoir
See Prepub Alert preview:

8. Cotterill, Colin. The Axe Factor: A Jimm Juree Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250043368. $24.99. mYS

9. Sharma, Akhil. Family Life. Norton. ISBN 9780393060058. $23.95. f
See LJ’s starred review:

10. Duffy, Erin. On the Rocks. Morrow. ISBN 9780062205742 $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062205759. f
See LJ’s starred review:


This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

SELF-eLearn More
SELF-e is an innovative collaboration between Library Journal and BiblioBoard® that enables authors and libraries to work together and expose notable self-published ebooks to voracious readers looking to discover something new. Finally, a simple and effective way to catalog and provide access to ebooks by local authors and build a community around indie writing!
Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.