Monday, March 7, 2016

Books, babies, more books, secrets, and one reformed grumpus!

This is a 'sweetheart' of a book!
I assumed I would love this book when I saw Garth Stein's comment on the cover:
A wonderful, moving, endearing story of redemption and transformation 
that will sing in your heart for a very, very long time.
Having met Garth and experienced his high-energy enthusiasm personally, if he's excited about something, I'm fairly certain I will also be excited by that same thing...
and that certainly held true for this book!
A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore:
Island Books
Alice Island's Exclusive Provider of 
Fine Literary Content since 1999

Amelia has just begun this job as a sales rep for Knightley Press and this is her first visit to Island Books. Let's just say it doesn't go well between herself and A.J. 
  Precarious stacks of ARCs and galleys line the hallway, and Amelia feels the usual flash of despair. The tote bag that is embossing her shoulder has several additions for A.J.'s piles and a catalog filled with other books for her to pitch...the sleeve of her sweater catches on one of the stacks, and one hundred books, maybe more, crash to the ground with a mortifying thunder.The [office] door opens, and A.J. Fikry looks from the wreckage to the dirty-blond giantess, who is frantically trying to repile the books. "Who the hell are you?" (9)
I admit I have some piles of books that probably number 40-50. I can only imagine 100!! What a mess! Poor woman!  
  Amelia is thirty-one years old and thinks she should have met someone by now. 
  And yet...Amelia the bright-sider believes it is better to be alone 
than to be with someone who doesn't share your sensibilities and interests. 
(It is, right?) (8)
Yes, Amelia, I would agree that it very definitely is... And poor Amelia does not exhibit the 'pretty and petite' persona preferred by most men. Online dating has been a bust and although she is a bit frustrated, she retains her optimistic attitude toward life...and the possibility of love. 

A.J. is a thirty-nine-year-old man whose wife died twenty-one months ago. He lives alone now...
  The difficulty of living alone is that any mess he makes 
he is forced to clean up himself.
  No, the real difficulty of living alone is that 
no one cares if you are upset. (19)
Well, at least there is no one in the immediate vicinity to care for or about you. In the few years I lived alone as an adult following my divorce I rarely missed having someone else around. But now that I have lived for 15+ years with someone I not only like and get along with well, but truly love and who makes me feel loved, I know it would be a much more difficult adjustment to return to living by myself again... Now that I've experienced a loving relationship which makes me happy and provides me with a secure foundation, I would miss him and that which he gives me, terribly. As A.J. misses Nic now. Nic, his wife. Nic, who was two months pregnant with their child, though no one else knew that detail as they'd not yet divulged the news to others due to disappointment with prior pregnancies. Nic who planned and ran special events at the store. Nic who had basically provided any and all enjoyment he had in life. Gone.

He had meant what he said. There is nothing worse than cutesy memoirs about widowers. (19-20)
A bit "tongue in cheek," I believe, since I'm certain many might apply that same label to this book! 

Despite the fact that he loves books and owns a bookstore,
A.J. does not particularly care for writers. 
He finds them to be unkempt, narcissistic, silly, 
and generally unpleasant people. 
He tries to avoid meeting the ones who've written books he loves 
for fear that they will ruin their books for him. 
Luckily, he does not love Daniel's books, not even 
the popular first novel. As for the man? 
Well, he amuses A.J. to an extent. 
This is to say, Daniel Parish is one of A.J.'s closest friends. (37)
I definitely laughed out loud upon reading this paragraph! Poor A.J. He just hasn't worked very hard at making people a part of his life...amazing that he has any business at all, fortunately he owns the only bookstore on Alice Island! 

In describing his decidedly very different reactions to the same book which he has read twice:
...the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things 
we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life...
Methinks I have grown soft in my middle age. 
But me-also-thinks my latter-day reaction speaks to the necessity 
of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives. (41)
Sometimes books don't find us until the right time. (92)
Quite often I read bloggers talking about this idea of a book entering their life at the right time, or not. I do believe that to be true. So many times a book I just spontaneously pick up and read speaks to me in such deep and meaningful ways, whereas there are times that I read a book at a specific time due to a review deadline, etc., and it just doesn't resonate with me, or upon rereading a book, it will prompt the opposite feeling(s) within me with the second reading. I do believe our mood can greatly determine our reaction to a book, particularly since we know that each person has a unique interpretation of any written material he or she may read, based upon their own life experience, intellectual ability, reading skill, etc. Why not mood? It only makes sense, doesn't it? I believe that is one reason I make a conscientious effort to clear my mind before starting a new book if it just doesn't appeal to me to read it at the time. I always tell myself that I am here to absorb whatever it is the author wishes me to "get" from this publication, purely and simply, then to decide what that means to me specifically. Perhaps that is why I really enjoy and like or love most of what I read. Don't know...but I think it helps to mentally prepare and open my mind.

As with so many, it is one person who finally manages to reveal to A.J. the benefits of involving people in his life. I'm not sure he ever truly opened up to much of anyone but Nic prior to this point in time. As he so eloquently states it...
Insane. At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it's love. 
Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. 
It's completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, 
he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything. (76)
Yeah...that's classic, isn't it? ;) Though it did make me laugh! And there is definitely at least a kernel of truth to that last sentence. I sometimes believe life is easier for those who don't appear to 'care so much'...

"It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us,...
but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable. 
Someday, you do not know when, you will be loved because for the first time in your life, 
you will truly not be alone. You will have chosen to not be alone." (157)
This is my favorite cover!
This passage really made me think. A lot. Perhaps it is true for some, and if so, I admit to feeling some pity for them. For better or for worse (Pardon the pun!), I have never felt I was unlovable, so I guess I'm lucky in that respect. I just believed that I hadn't found the person who could or would truly love me, and I would say I was correct! 

I found the character of Ismay to be so very self-contradictory and thought-provoking. Her sister was very happy in her long-term relationship which was, in effect, so short-lived. Whereas Ismay is very unhappy in a comparatively long-lived long-term relationship. I rather admired her ability to keep secrets and silently deal with her own culpability for so much in her own life and others' lives. In reality it might not have helped anyone if Ismay had divulged her knowledge, but I don't know that I could have withheld it from others. At least she finally seems to be relatively happy in the end. I admit that I felt her stealing something valuable from someone who appeared to be a good friend was confusing, but then, we never know what we might do in the same situation, do we?

I know what words do, he thinks. They let us feel less. (250)
My initial reaction to this is to heartily disagree! By reading words, I am immersed in someone else's life and I may feel a ton as a result. However, if I clarify by stating that words broaden my own realm of 'experience' so I can better understand others' perspectives and thereby reduce whatever anxieties or stressors I may "feel" I have in my own life. How do you "feel" about this statement?

I agree! Life is definitely a compilation of experiences...both "good" and "bad."

Everyone in the Borders Book Club enjoyed this book. I truly loved it. 
Poignant. Sweet. Hopeful. We can truly make our own families.

Just a little sidebar, on page 71 Zevin lists some books the mothers who provide A.J. with child-rearing tips are reading for their "book group": The Paris Wife, A Reliable Wife, and American Wife. These just happen to be the first three books read and reviewed for the Literary Wives Online Book Discussion Group for which I am a cohost! Coincidence? ;)

Have you read this one yet? 

No comments:

Post a Comment