"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry...prepping for book club

This month I reread The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin in preparation for the book club meeting at my house on this coming Tuesday. I listened to the audiobook and loved the story as much as I loved it the first time. (Though, I apparently never reviewed the book so we can't look back on my precise thoughts at the time.) I had forgotten so many details it was almost like I read it for the first time. What I did remember was that A.J. Fikry owned a bookstore on an island and his preferred reading choices were short stories. I wanted to incorporate a discussion about both bookstores and short stories into the evening's questions.

Prepping for the club meeting:
  • First, I've decided to serve shrimp and mini-quiches and other foods available from COSTCO. Why? Because whenever A.J. hosted a book event at the store his friend, Lambiase, always suggested that he serve shrimp from COSTCO no matter the event. We usually have desserts at our club meetings, so I think I will serve the shrimp as an appetizer along with some bubbly drink or some summer beverage like lemonade. Then for dessert I'll serve up a COSTCO cheesecake or some such treat from their fresh choices. I usually spend hours making some elaborate homemade delight so this will be easy.
  • Peruse the print version of the book and reread all the notes to his daughter that he has titled after short stories. Select a few of my favorite short stories that I can talk about during the meeting. I reminded gals today about their assignment to come to club with a short story in mind, so I hope they follow through. 
  • Clean the house and wash off the patio furniture. The weather isn't very warm today. If it is this temperature on Tuesday evening, we'll be inside, but I am hoping we can sit outside on the deck. After I finish this blogpost, I'm heading outside to spray off the chairs.
  • Decide on questions for the discussion.
Discussion questions (Most taken from the publisher, with a few twists from me):
P: On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." In light of this story what do you think this means and do you agree?

1. At the beginning of the story, Amelia says she is considering quitting online dating. How would you compare the act of buying books online to the act of dating online? Is it relevant to the story that Amelia meets her eventual husband in a very analog location, a bookstore? What other examples of technology intrusions make their way into the story? Are they always bad intrusions?

2. Consider the setting. Why do you think the author chooses to set the book on an island? How does the island setting reflect A.J.’s character?

3. Do you think that Maya's appearance and adoption were handled or explained well in the writing? Explain.

4. Lambiase moves from an occasional or nonreader, to a reader, to a bookseller. How do you think becoming a reader changes him? Consider the scene where he decides not to confront Ismay about the backpack. Do you think Lambiase’s reaction is different than it would have been if he hadn’t taken up reading?

5. The author chooses to begin each chapter with a description of a short story. Discuss some of the ways the stories relate to the chapters with which they are paired. Is A.J. creating a canon for Maya? How does the book itself function as a kind of canon? If these are A.J.’s favorites, what do they say about A.J. as a reader and as a man? 

5a. What short stories have meant something to you in your life? A list of my favorite short stories is posted here. Zevin says we write stories to understand our world. Does that relate to reading them, too?

6. Did you find Ismay’s motivations for stealing Tamerlane to be forgivable? How do you think she should pay for her crime? Why do you think Lambiase lets her off?

7. At one point, Maya speculates that perhaps “your whole life is determined by what store you get left in” (page 85). Is it the people or the place that makes the difference?

8. When did you become aware that Leon Friedman might be an imposter? What did you make of Leonora Ferris’s reasons for hiring him?

9. How do you think Daniel Parrish might have changed if he had lived? Do you think some people never change?

10. Were you surprised by the outcome of the short story contest? What do you think of A.J.’s comments to Maya about why certain books and stories win prizes and others don’t? Does the knowledge that a book has won a prize attract you to reading it?

11. Compare Maya’s “fiction” about the last day of her mother’s life to Ismay’s version. Which do you consider to be more accurate and why?

12. How do you think the arrival of the e-reader is related to the denouement of the story? Is A.J. a man who cannot exist in a world with e-books? What do you think of e-books? Do you prefer reading in e- or on paper? Refer to the interview at the back about how Ms. Zevin feels about technology.

13. At one point, A.J. asks Maya, “Is a twist less satisfying if you know it’s coming? Is a twist that you can’t predict symptomatic of bad construction?” What do you think of this statement in view of the plot of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry? Did you guess who Maya’s father was? If so, what were the clues?

14. The author chooses to end the novel with a new sales rep coming to an Island Books that is no longer owned by A.J. What do you make of this ending?

15. What do you think the future holds for physical books and bookstores? (See page 257 for Amelia quote about bookstores.) What are some of your favorite bookstores. (Show book: Bibliophile) 

16. The Publisher summarizes the book this way: "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." Do you agree with this summary. What were some of your favorite quotes from the book?

Favorite quotes:
"But me-also-thinks my latter-day reaction speaks to the necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives. Remember, Maya: the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vise versa. This is true for books and also in life."-27
"A place is not really a place without a bookstore."-200
" Your dad relates to the characters. It has meaning to me. And the longer I do this (bookselling, yes, but also living, if that isn't too awfully sentimental), the more I believe that this is what the point of it all is. To connect, my little nerd. Only connect."-247
"The words you can't find, you borrow. We read to know we are not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in thes books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels...We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works. He has read enough to know there are no collections where every story is perfect. Some hits. Some misses. If you're lucky, a standout. And in the end, people only really remember the standouts anyway, and they don't remember those for very long."-249
"We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved, and these, I think these really do live on."-251
Update after the event:
Book club was last night and seventeen gals attended, including me. After cleaning the deck and the deck furniture in preparation for the meeting the weather turned cold and windy and so I crammed everyone into my living room instead.  Anyway we had a great discussion. Each gal was given a question on a scrap of paper from the 16+ listed above. It was her job to answer that question before it was opened up to the group. That way everyone, even the quiet ones, had a chance to speak.

I had spent the earlier part of my day with my grandson and didn't have a chance to shop at COSTCO until after 5 PM so I opted for cheesecake, but no shrimp. I just ran out of time. I served sangria, lemonade, coffee, nuts, chocolate blueberries, cheesecake all from Costco. The only addition was the fruit compote which I used as a topping. I got it from my freezer. Everyone said they enjoyed the evening. My husband would probably be the exception. He kept being called upon to assist with the dog, who is simply overly friendly, or to move furniture to accommodate so many people, and then he started on the dishes after the cheesecake was served and eaten.  I should say, though, that he is the only husband of the group who actually helps out when the meeting is here. Other husbands hide out and we don't even see them. Don always lends a hand making the coffee and serving the dessert. He is a prize-winner in my book.


  1. I loved this book very much! It sounds like you're doing a great job of hosting too. Such beautiful quotes! I don't read many short stories, but I remember reading a bunch of sci-fi ones by Arthur C. Clarke. There was one called The Nine Million Names of God (or something like that) that has stayed with me for decades.

    1. I usually don't read Sci-Fi but I love the title of that Arthur C. Clarke story. I will look for it.

  2. You are so well prepared for your book group meeting! My book group was never that organized. :-)


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