There comes a time in everyone’s life when a book truly speaks to them. It talks and you cannot do anything but listen and wonder what happened to all those dreams and hopes that were once present. Books do that. They have the power to communicate. They also have the power to heal a broken soul, no matter how broken or damaged. I think for me, books have always been that. An antidote to everything that is wrong with the world and everything that can be made right, with just the turn of the page.
So when I knew that my next read was going to be about books and reading, I could not contain my joy. I love books about books and reading that centre on the theme of a reader or two. It feels my heart with immense warmth. This is exactly what happened as I read, “The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin.
The book is a story of a bookstore owner and how his life transforms completely, through reading and the people he meets in the course of his life, or rather those who enter his life involuntarily and change it completely. The bookstore is called Island Books and is on a small town called Alice in Staten Island. A.J. Fikry’s wife died recently in a car accident and he does not know what to do with his life. Books and his store are the only things that keep him going.
On the other hand, there is Amelia, a book representative who is leading a very lonely life and has a big heart. She too loves her books and reads with a passion. Needless to say, her life intersects that of A.J. and things take a dramatic turn. Amidst all this, there is a two-year old baby Maya, who is left at the bookstore’s doorstep one fine day and A.J. has no clue what to do with her.
In all of this, A.J’s first edition of Poe is stolen and he is immensely heartbroken about it. There is no way he can get it back, try as he might. It just vanished in thin air.
If the plot does not compel you enough to go out and read this book, then maybe my experience while reading it should, or so I hope. The book made me laugh. The book made me cry. Books that do that to you have a power which cannot be defined. Zevin’s writing is marvellous. She takes the emotion – lays it bare and then gives it her own touch of empathy and unique voice. There are times when I had to keep the book down, take a breath, or perhaps not choke with emotion and get back to it.
A.J. Fikry is one character who will not be forgotten by readers who read this gem of a book. Zevin has created characters that are loveable and what binds them is their love of books and the written word. I could not stop reading this book. In fact, I also remember telling a friend before watching a movie on Saturday night that I would rather be home, finishing this book and this is exactly what I did once the movie got over. I rushed home and finished this book, only to find myself crying at the end of it and fully aware that I would reread this magical book and cry and laugh all over again.