The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Jul 27, 2015

A book review of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A few months ago, I read MotherStyles and discovered that I'm an ISTJ.

Since that time, I've been a little obsessed with personality type, so it's probably no surprise that when Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy (one of my nine favorite blogs for book recommendations) came up with a list of sixteen different books highlighting each personality type, I had to read the one with an ISTJ protagonist.

Which happened to be this book.

A.J. Fikry owns the only bookstore on Alice Island. He's not terribly successful since he's not really interested in selling books he doesn't like (a quite expansive list, including "children's books, especially ones with orphans"). For years, he did okay because his wife, Nic, was more personable and knew how to sell books.

But about a year and a half before, she was killed in a tragic car accident, and since that time, A.J. can't bring himself to care much about what other people think. Already introverted and unemotional (hence, the ISTJ label), A.J. turns even more inside himself after the accident.

But early in the story, two things happen that begin to soften A.J. Fikry. He meets Knightly's publishing rep, Amelia Loman (their first meeting does not go well, and it's several years later before anything really starts to happen between them), and a two-year-old girl (Maya) is abandoned in the children's section of his store. The mother left a note pinned to her saying that she wants her daughter to "grow up in a place with books," but of course, A.J. has no interest in becoming a father (especially not under these circumstances).

But as fate would have it, A.J. inexplicably grows attached to little Maya and makes amends with Amelia and his life begins to have meaning again.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was not at all what I was expecting. And that might be kind of the point. Life, by its very nature, is unexpected, and, if I had to give a succinct summary of this book, it would simply be "a fairly quiet, but unpredictable, recounting of A.J. Fikry's life." The book itself is relatively short (at 258 pages, A.J. would approve since he does not like anything over 400 pages or under 150) and it spans quite a few years (I can't remember exactly how many, but it's over a decade for sure). Gabrielle Zevin doesn't try to get too ambitious with A.J.'s story. She knows she can't tell about every single event in his life, so she settles on the most meaningful and tells them very well. Really, I can't praise her writing highly enough: some might consider it sparse, but it was so tangible that it never felt like anything was missing.

I think Anne Bogel was right when she labeled A.J. as an ISTJ. Although I hope I come across as a slightly more approachable person, I could definitely see myself in him. I like to be alone (preferably with a good book); I often take awhile to warm up to people; I like to think about and analyze stories and relate them to real life (obviously); I am meticulous and rather set in my ways. (A.J. is so happy when the Christmas season is over because he "likes [his] routine. He likes making breakfast in the morning. He likes running to work." I can relate.) But in spite of all these similarities, I didn't read this book and think (like I sometimes do), I wish A.J. Fikry and I could meet in real life. We would work so well together. Our personalities might overlap, but I think our interests might not. I guess that's kind of a funny thing to say since A.J. Fikry loves books, and I love books, too, but it doesn't really seem as if we like the same kind of books. So we wouldn't have much to talk about.

That being said, one of the best parts of this book is all of the references to books. Each chapter begins with a little excerpt from a book journal of sorts. A.J. gives a brief summary of a book and then tells Maya why it is meaningful to him. Besides these little snippets, there are book references scattered constantly throughout the story, and I was familiar with enough of them to feel like a real reader. Besides being about A.J., this is also a book about books, and it's pretty delightful.

I finished this book a few weeks ago, but as I've been writing this review, I've been paging back through it and remembering just how much I enjoyed it. The writing is just so marvelous. (I loved the part when Maya christens their new home Bag End "because it looks as if a hobbit might live here," and "A.J. kisses his daughter on the forehead. He is delighted to have produced such a fantastic nerd.") (I had a similar moment over the weekend when we walked into our hotel room, and Maxwell gave a delighted cry before flinging open the doors of the closet: "It's a wardrobe! It's a wardrobe!" I'm sure he was secretly hoping Narnia would be just on the other side of it.)

And now I'm on the lookout for other books with ISTJ protagonists. Got any ideas?

Content note: I liked this book a good deal, but please be aware that there is some content I don't feel comfortable recommending: language (including the f-word) and some pre-marital sex (but nothing very descriptive).


  1. I really liked this book too, although I'd classify it more as a fun, easy read rather than great literature. I love that MMD did a book list by personality type. I'm a big fan of Myers-Briggs...or at least I was until I went to a lecture on all types of personality/skills/interest assessments. I'll have to write a post about everything I learned. It's not that I no longer value MBTI, but there are so many other assessments out there that can be a vehicle for reflecting on who you are.

    1. Oooh, looking forward to your post about personality assessments! I agree that Myers-Briggs, while comprehensive, is not all-inclusive. There are many more factors that come into play in relation to who we are as individuals!

  2. Some additional thoughts: I like the cover of the image here much more than the cover of the book I read. Also, I totally don't agree with not reading books over 400 pages; he's missed out on some of my favorite books. East of Eden! Anna Karenina! Middlemarch!


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