When the main character of a new novel is the owner of an independent bookstore, perhaps it’s no surprise that indie stores are embracing the book.
And many bookstore employees are expressing enthusiasm for Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” which was just released on April 1 but already seems to be everywhere in the indie book world. “Fikry” follows the title character, who is the owner of a bookstore called Island Books. A.J. is struggling personally after the death of his wife and the slow slide of sales at his store, but many members of the community on Alice Island, where his store is located, refuse to give up on him and the arrival of a strange package is about to change his life.
“Fikry” debuted this week at number six on the IndieBound bestseller list and IndieBound chose the book as the number one pick for its April Indie Next list, with Daniel Goldin, a worker at Wisconsin’s Boswell Book Company, calling it “a romantic comedy, a spiritual journey… it’s a celebration of books and the people who read them, write them, and sell them.”
Other reviews have been fairly good, with Washington Post writer Keith Donohue calling it “an entertaining novel, modest in its scope, engaging and funny without being cloying or sentimental,” though Donohue said that “here and there, one’s suspension of disbelief is tested.” Meanwhile, Publishers Weekly wrote that “Zevin is a deft writer, clever and witty, and her affection for the book business is obvious,” though PW called one part of the plot “somewhat unbelievabl[e]” and “predictabl[e].” Kirkus Reviews found it to be “a likable literary love story about selling books and finding love,” though the critic noted that “Zevin writes characters of a type, certainly, but ones who nonetheless inspire empathy.”
However, indie bookstore workers were already loving the novel all the way back in January, when Michael Link, a worker at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, told industry newsletter Shelf Awareness that staff at both the Kentucky and Ohio locations of the store had read the book and loved it. “The writing is top-notch and the story, set in a small bookstore, is wonderful,” he said.
More recently, California’s Rakestraw Books decided to take a gamble on a recent rainy day and chose “Fikry” as the book they wanted to gamble on. After two days of slow sales, owner Michael Barnard told Shelf Awareness they really needed a good sales day on March 26, so were discouraged when it started raining that day. Rain usually meant slow days at the store. So staff came up with an idea: if customers who lived in one of a few towns nearby ordered “Fikry,” Rakestraw Books workers would deliver it to their home that day. Barnard said his staff had all read Zevin’s book and were all enthusiastic about it.
“It's the perfect rainy day read,” he said of the book. “Making the offer drew a lot of attention. And the response has been great, very validating and affirming. People have said they read the book and loved it, and that it was a fun promotion.”
In Illinois, Anderson’s Bookshops staff liked the book enough to make it a focus of an April Fool’s Day joke – workers transformed both locations in Downers Grove and Naperville into A.J.’s store, Island Books, for the day, complete with signs reading “New owner!” and a fake biography of the “new owner,” A.J., on the store’s website. Their embrace of the novel isn’t over: throughout the month of April, customers can take a photo with a basket with a doll inside, representing the toddler A.J. finds in his store. Those who put the photo of themselves with the doll on social media could win a T-shirt and signed copy of the book from Anderson’s and head up the line when Zevin comes to the store at the end of April.