Wednesday, December 10, 2014

DECEMBER 2014 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

What holds true in books as in life is you need to “encounter them at precisely the right time.”

On one foggy Texas morn, 21 Bookers converged on the home of Bonnie Magee to extend a very Merry Christmas and toast another joyful year of reading and sharing books. Co-host Rosemary Farmer captured the season and the theme of this month’s novel with a display of books in sections and the Island Books sign. We owe special thanks to Bonnie for once again doing a great job of coordinating our menu and hosting the holiday celebration, to those who volunteered to bring food and spirits, and to our Mimosa elves, Jane and Leslie, for keeping us hydrated and happy.

Melanie Prebis walked us through this “love letter to the world of books” about a thirty-nine year old grieving widow, A.J. Fikry, owner of a small bookstore on a remote island off the coast of New England. It’s a story of overcoming depression and bitterness to give his heart and name to an abandoned child and trusting in a second chance for love. The combination of Maya, the intelligent and precocious two-year old and Amelia, the thirty-one year old single publisher’s sales representative, provide a solid footing for A.J. to transition from a man bent on “drinking himself to death” to the toast of the Island’s book community. We see a boorish A.J. who detests anything from postmortem narrators to children’s books and adding to the flabbergast he thinks writers are “unkempt, narcissistic, silly, and generally unpleasant” in a livelihood surrounded by authored hardcovers and paperbacks. Alongside the ‘new daddy-new love’ story, a cast of minor characters provides entertaining sub-plots, one involving his sister-in-law, the mysterious theft of a treasured possession and the stories tied to it, and her writer husband’s deceitfulness. Another, a police chief expanding his reading horizons, forming a book club for his fellow officers, and finding love and skeletons in the closet co-existing in the same bedroom; a book-signing event featuring a Hemingway-department store Santa faux author reveals another mystery. There’s a heartrending end to a new way of life, the beginning of another, and a dream of the future. Although tragic incidents frame the narrative, the story is uplifting and is chocked full of humorous lines and observations.

The majority read the book, many liked it, but a few thought it was very predictable; a couple would have scripted a happier ending; some applied the common sense approach to A.J.’s drastic personality change and how he was able to adopt Maya citing these incidents unbelievable, including Maya’s intelligence level; to a few it read like a fairy tale; We discussed A.J.’s ethnicity. The author constructed his character as Southeast Asian while in the book he describes himself as part Indian. Several of us were under the impression he was of African American lineage. Melanie asked if anyone knew which C.S. Lewis quote was on the new sales rep’s wrist to no avail. We discussed A.J.’s summaries of his favorite literary short stories/novellas for Maya…they cleverly provide us a character profile of A.J. saying, “Read these and know my heart. We are what we love.” Control flew out the window, when towards the end of the meeting we had a lively discussion on “coupling” on the first date. Details are under lock and key.

Some of our favorite quotes:
A.J. on the Maya: “The baby is a terrorist. She wakes up at insane times – 3:45 in the morning is when her day begins.”

“No one travels without purpose. Those who are lost wish to be lost.” The Late Bloomer

“The day my father shook my hand, I knew I was a writer.” (Maya after the writing competition.)

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. My life is in these books. We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.” A.J.F.

This quote from the book reminded Melanie of how she feels about Bookers. “Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.” Thank you Melanie from all of us for recognizing we each possess a wealth of diversity in our reading lives and in our lives in general! And, on a personal note from MN and me, we appreciate all our “cups of tea” are not poured from the same pot, but our goal is to mix the pekoe with the Egyptian chamomile to find a blend that will minimize the discontents and maximize the enjoyment. In one of my grandmother’s short stories, she writes about ‘the first cup of tea moistens the lips and throat and the fifth lifts one to the realms of the unwinking gods.’ We’re shooting for somewhere in between.

                 COLOR CODING SYSTEM
                 WHITE:         LIGHT READ
                 PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                 RED:              CHALLENGING
January 13th, 2015       The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
                                    Home of Sandy Molander
                                    No formal review – group discussion
February 10th:              All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
                                    Home of Jean Alexander
                                    Reviewer: Barbara Creach
March 10th:                  No book selected                   
                                    Home of Joanna Linder
April 14th:                    Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
                                    PINK +
                                    Home of Kay Robinson
                                    Reviewer: Jean Alexander
May 19th:                     The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
                                    Home of Beverly Dossett                                         
                                    Reviewer: Beverly Dossett
Summer Break:           June, July & August
September 8th:             Bookers 12th year

“All you need to know about a person is how they answer this question. What is your favorite book?”

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