I didn’t expect to like this book, but so many people at work were reading it that when an audio copy turned up on the Bestseller shelf, I decided to give it a whirl. (I was between audiobooks, and growing a wee bit tired of the Stuff You Missed in History podcast. Which is excellent, usually, but one can only listen to so much history and I’ve been overindulging. But I digress. But wait, isn’t that what parentheses are FOR?)
I should have hated this book. It’s a mass of clichés – crotchety depressed widower hermit adopts an abandoned baby, meets a plucky younger woman and is forced to join the human race again, and in the process enlists and transforms his entire town (Silas Marner, anyone?) – but it’s still a good story, and the literary references (the main character is a bookstore owner and reading snob) make it worth reading. It’s like a love story for books, and an anthem for what librarians call “reader’s advisory” and booksellers call “hand selling”, which is essentially the art of matching up readers with books they will enjoy. As a person who really believes that there is a book for every reader and a reader for every book (well, except maybe Moby Dick or Ulysses, which no one should ever be forced to endure), I found it thoroughly charming. As a lover of most of the same books that A.J. loves, I was tickled every time he managed to talk his customers into reading something I myself might recommend to them (at one point he gets the police chief to read one of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, and the police chief LIKES IT).
Oh, and on the side you get some other subplots – A.J.’s rare copy of Tamerlane (which he was hoping to sell to finance his retirement) is stolen near the beginning of the story, and it takes until the end of the novel to figure out who took it. The parentage of A.J.’s adopted daughter Maya, abandoned in the bookstore by her suicidal mother, is likewise revealed along the way. Throughout the novel, A.J writes notes to his daughter (mostly book recommendations), which are especially heartbreaking when you find out why he’s been writing them to her.
The best part of this story is the community the author creates. After you are done reading it, you will miss the people you have met on Alice Island, and want to go and visit Island Books to see what’s new on the shelves.