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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Author Interview: Gabrielle Zevin, author of 'The Collected Works of AJ Fikry' (Thanks to Hachette)

People, though an interview with Gabrielle Zevin, was not possible by me, Hachette (the publishers of her book were kind enough to share an interview with Ms Zevin with me) and below you will find her interview. :) You can read my review here and you could also buy the book right here.

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. And I think it can almost be understood as a private joke between a married couple.

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. There’s a danger in reading or in any intellectual pursuit for it to become too solitary and myopic, but I believe a true intellectual has a desire to share, to teach. 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 favourite short stories. Are these also your favourite short stories?

In a few cases, yes, but in many cases, they’re not. And I’m not sure they’re Fikry’s favourites 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 favourites are Love Stories in this Town by Amanda Eyre Ward, Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger, and Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. I am also very into disastrous dinner party stories – it’s a whole subgenre really. “The Dinner Party” by Joshua Ferris is a terrific recent example as is the titular story from Bobcat by Rebecca Lee. (I think Fikry would adore Rebecca Lee’s entire collection — it’s as close to perfect a collection as I’ve ever read.)

For all-time favourites, I love Pam Houston, Amy Hempel, Raymond Carver, Grace Paley, Aimee Bender, and so many others. When I was a kind, my favourite short stories were probably "The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury and Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl. Back then, I was partial to a twist.

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. There’s that perfect moment in Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. The main character, Sarah, defends Emma Bovary in a book group, and it says as much about Sarah and where she is in her life as it does about Emma Bovary.

On another note, modern life is increasingly organized into virtual spaces with like-minded individuals. The book club fights this trend a bit. For a while, I ran a book club arranged around themed cocktails. We’d read, say, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, which is the delightful novella where the Queen of England takes up reading, and I'd serve a Royal Dubonnet, which is supposedly the Queen's favourite drink. Unfortunately, everyone would get too tipsy to discuss anything properly. I might start it up again someday. There's a perfect ratio between drink 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 Collected Works 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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