Kobo in conversation with….author Gabrielle Zevin

Posted by Kobo Reads March  14, 2014

As you might expect, we at Kobo are mad about books – Kobo being an eBookstore created for and by booklovers. So imagine how excited we were to hear about The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, a new book on the horizon, which takes place around a book shop!  

Author Gabrielle Zevin created a world where a curmudgeonly bookstore owner is confronted with all manner of troubles and hardships. The result is a sad and sweet tale that shows love will save your life.

We had a chance to ask Zevin a few questions about how she came up with her story and her incredible characters – here’s what she told us:

Even though bookstore owner A. J. Fikry is so cantankerous, he’s impossible not to love. Where did this character come from?

There’s good potential for getting myself in trouble with this question! I sold my first novel about ten years ago, and let’s say Fikry came from just under a decade of experiences in publishing. Fikry’s the culmination of many, many conversations at publishing lunches and dinners, and ill-to-modestly attended bookstore events and book conferences in summer. He’s a little bit Silas Marner, a pinch of Mr. Darcy, and—dare I admit this?—a dash of myself, too.

Your fictional store, Island Books, has the slogan “No man is an island; every book is a world.” How does that apply to Fikry?

Although this is not mentioned in the book, the slogan is something A.J.’s first wife, Nicole, wrote, or at least modified from John Donne. A.J. would never put something so sentimental on his store’s sign. Even before Nicole died, A.J. wasn’t necessarily the most gregarious bookseller or person, and the slogan is a reminder from Nicole to A.J. not to shut himself off from people and from the world. In many ways, that’s A.J.’s journey—from resident of an isolating, intellectual island to citizen and participant in a greater community. So, yeah, the moral of the story is on the sign! Makes it easy for readers to find.  

Peppered throughout the novel are Fikry's favorite short stories. Are these also your favorite short stories?

In a few cases, yes, but in many cases, they’re not. And I’m not sure they’re Fikry’s favorites either, but the ones he feels his daughter should read. Fikry comes from an academic background, and I think the list is Fikry in teaching mode and should be taken as his syllabus for a budding writer. But like Fikry, I am a lifelong short story reader and enthusiast. For recent-ish collections, my favorites are Love Stories in this Town by Amanda Eyre Ward, Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger, and Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer.

There are some great book clubs in this novel, from the one Fikry starts to the book club the police officer leads. What is it about book clubs that you find so appealing?

Book clubs force people to discuss something other than themselves and their own problems. Yet, the guise of discussing the fictional can allow people to be incredibly revealing. For a while, I ran a book club arranged around themed cocktails. There’s a perfect ratio between drinks and books, which I have not yet mastered.

Fikry has very specific tastes. How do you think he’d respond to a novel like this?

Ha! He’d have a lot of complaints, I’m sure. He’d think I’d gotten a lot of things wrong about bookselling, adoption and childrearing, the geography of Massachusetts, brain cancer, and the Green Animals Topiary Garden of Rhode Island. He’d think I made him too cartoonish. But let’s imagine that the book crossed A.J. Fikry’s desk on the right day and caught him in just the right mood. Maybe he’d write a shelf talker like this: “Despite its modest size and the liberties its author takes, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has a few lovely moments. Though my taste runs to books that are less sentimental than this one, I’m sure my wife, my daughter, and my best friend the cop will love this book, and I will heartily recommend it to them.”

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