Book nerds love books about book nerds and books. Book nerds love fantasies about making a living selling books, being around books, maybe even living above shelves and shelves of books.
Zevin, a book nerd, knows that and gives the rest of us book nerds just what we want. A widowed bookseller (Fikry) whose bookstore is on a New England island, but not Nicholas Sparks style. He’s not white (one of my favorite lines is when an islander asks him if his daughter is his because they’re both black, but different kinds of black–I know people who could ask that question). There’s a rare edition of Tamerlane, stolen during the night. There’s a suicidal single mother (not messy, drowning–it’s an island after all) and a baby left in a bookstore with a note to please raise her among books (yup). There’s a womanizing author who’s never been able to replicate the success of his first novel (the best friend). There’s an overly tall, poorly dressed, awkward book rep who finds love in the bookstore. There’s a tragic sister-in-law married to the womanizing author who is the drama/English teacher at the island high school. And, to top off what sounds like a Nicholas Sparks cast, a good-hearted police chief who discovers his love of reading and starts a Chief’s Choice book group and befriends the bookseller.
This sounds like it could be a Nicholas Sparks book, but it’s New England, not the Carolinas, and Fikry prefers short stories to novels and probably despises Sparks (he’s a book snob, as is mentioned several times). Zevin’s characters are not interchangeable pieces in a bestseller factory. They are real, flawed, interesting people. While it’s a book set in the midst of books and book lovers, it’s about love (also a potential Sparks element), but not treacly diabetic-reaction-inducing love. Complicated, messy, sometimes disappointing love.
Apologies to Mr. Fikry, but I love used books (I’m a convert after years of new-book snobbery) and I buy most of them from Amazon (again, apologies). I love when people underline or comment (this improves value for me rather than reducing). In my ex-libris copy of Fikry, there were no marginal notes, but, on the one page I had to mark a quote, someone had already dog-eared the corner. Perfect. Here’s why.
Each chapter begins with a note from Fikry regarding a book or short story. In this particular chapter, Fikry’s note (about Dahl’s The Bookseller) tells the addressee that it’s all about connection (yes, like the one I experienced with the former reader who had already dog-eared the page with my quote). Here’s the quote (and you can judge how Sparks it is):
“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).
Despite Fikry’s wise observation, I am going to collect this book. I buy and read many. My shelves are overflowing, so I now make very careful choices about which I keep and which I pass along for others to fall in love with–or to pass along to someone else who might connect with them. But this one I’m keeping. And I’m looking up more from Zevin, whose style makes me want to keep turning the page.