I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.
A.J. Fikry is a calloused, tragic middle-aged widower who owns a bookstore in New England, but hates change and most of the newer genres of books. He prefers to be left alone to his frozen curry meals and short stories, and gives a cold, angry reception to the new sales rep for the local book publishing company where he usually acquires his new titles. But one day, his retirement plan, a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane is stolen, and he thinks his future is lost. Then, while out for a run one evening, after leaving the front door locked, A.J. returns to find a two-year old in his shop, alone with a note passing her on to the owner of the bookstore. He never expected to fall in love with the bright little girl, or to start stocking books she would like, and as a result, even the silly romantic books the mothers in town enjoy as they drop off gifts or advice for him, nor to host a regular police officer book club of detective novels for his new best friend. Peppered with wonderfully dry wit, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is about accepting life’s unforseen ambushes, and will be an exceptional delight for readers who’ve dreamed of choosing which books to sell in a bookstore.
- Why did Amelia ask her date what book had had the greatest influence on him? What was her answer? Or A.J.s? What is yours?
- Why is a theft an acceptable social loss while a death is an isolating one, especially for A.J.?
- A.J. said that “Remember that a fine education can be found in places other than the usual.” What are some of those places?
- What did A.J. mean by the following statement to his doctor after his wife died “I don’t want to die. I just find it difficult to be here all the time”? Do many survivors of a tragedy feel this way at times? What are some good reasons to tell someone to stay?
- A.J. talks about the “necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives.” What were some of the books he encountered that spoke to him in ways they wouldn’t have at another time? Did Amy have any books like that? Do you?
- Why did Maya’s mother choose A.J.?
- How did having the baby in the bookstore increase the number of mothers buying books in the bookstore? What are some of the stories they enjoy? What did she also do for the kids who came into the bookstore?
- Maya wrote reviews for A.J. in the afternoons. Apple=the book’s smell is approved. A block of cheese=the book is ripe. A self-portrait=she likes the pictures. How would book reviews be different in the adult world if we used symbols like this for our reviews? *Activity* What fun symbols would you use to categorize books?
- What was Amy’s favorite book, and why did it suggest to A.J. “strange and wonderful things about her character...dark places that I might like to visit”? How do you “know everything you need to know about a person from their answer to the question ‘What is your favorite book?’”
- A.J. asked Amy, “In what restaurant based on a novel would you prefer to dine” when they were eating at the Moby Dick themed restaurant. Her answer was The Gulag Archipelago, because made her hungry reading about bread and soup. What was the item in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that A.J. had always wanted to try? Why was it disappointing for him? What novel would you prefer a restaurant based off of and why?
- A.J. appreciated Friedman’s novel because it “gets at something specific about what it is to lose someone. How it isn’t one thing. He writes about how you lose and lose and lose.” What were some of the things he lost when Nic died?
- Why did Lambiase believe that “pretty much every bad thing in life is a result of bad timing, and every good thing is a result of good timing”? How did this connect with Tamerlane and Marian Wallace and her daughter, Maya?
- Why couldn’t Daniel ever get past the success of his first novel, The Children in the Apple Tree?
- What interesting things happened at the bookstore reading for Leon Friedman? Why did A.J. really go to all that trouble with the party and hats and all?
- Why, for the wedding, was a passage chosen to be read that began with the quote “It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us, but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable...”?
- Is a twist less satisfying if you know it’s coming? Is a twist that you can’t predict symptomatic of bad construction? What were some twists in this book?
- What makes some authors, teachers, and writing professors disagree with the following statement: “‘Show, don’t tell’ is a complete crock of shit...It comes from Syd Field’s screenplay books, but it doesn’t have a thing to do with novel writing. Novels are all tell. The best ones at least. Novels aren’t meant to be imitation screenplays” ?
- “...cops go one of two ways as they get older. They either get more judgmental or less so. Lambiase is not so rigid as when he was a young police officer. He has found that people do all sorts of things, and they usually have their reasons.” What things did Lambiase choose not to judge on?
- Why did A.J. consider a crack pipe to be less destructive than an ereader?
- “Why is it so much easier to write about the things we dislike/hate/acknowledge to be flawed than the things we love”? How did Maya, and AJ, manage to do both?
When A.J. was frantically trying to figure out what to feed Maya the toddler on her first night with him, his sister-in-law Ismay brought over dinner and for dessert, an apple crumble. This has been transformed into individual muffin form; however, a freshly baked apple crumble is also delightful.
- 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup brown sugar, separated
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream or vanilla bean (preferred) Greek yogurt, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups peeled apples, diced small, about 2 medium apples
- 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cinnamon, divided
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned regular rolled oats
- 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1 tsp salt
Apple Crumble Muffins
- Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, cream together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the granulated sugar (minus the tablespoon), and the canola oil. In a separate bowl, sift together two cups of flour, the salt, and the baking powder. To the bowl with the diced apples, gently fold in the tablespoon each of sugar and cinnamon until well coated, using a spoon or spatula.
- When the sugars and oil are combined, add the Greek yogurt (or sour cream) to the bowl, followed by the vanilla extract and the two eggs, one at a time. Stop the mixer to scrape down the insides of the bowl. Turn the speed back on to low and slowly add the flour mixture in three portions. When all those ingredients are combined, turn off the mixer, remove the bowl, and use a spoon or rubber spatula to gently fold in the apples to the batter with a spatula; do not use the mixer or it will ruin the apple chunks.
- In a small mixing bowl, add the remaining 2/3 cup of flour, the rolled oats, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the stick of butter, the last teaspoon of cinnamon and the ground nutmeg. Note: If the butter is still very cold from the fridge, put it in the microwave for about 15 seconds. If it’s too hard, you won’t be able to combine it. Cut the ingredients together with a pastry blender or fork (or your fingers, if you don’t mind getting messy) until the mixture is a uniform, light brown color and sticks together like a dough.
- Into two muffin tins, scoop the batter and fill each cup two-thirds of the way up, leaving room for the topping. Crumble large amounts of the topping over each muffin. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean of raw batter. Makes 18 muffins.
If you are using spray instead of paper for your muffin tins, hold the spray and the pan up vertically, then spray it. You’ll get better coverage that way. Also, sprinkle a pinch of flour into each cup over the spray, and the muffins will release more easily and completely.
Apple Crumble Muffins
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Characters mentioned within this book are Holden Caulfield, Misters Rochester and Darcy. Authors are David Foster Wallace and C. S. Lewis, and books are Lamb to the Slaughter, The Book Thief, The Paris Wife, A Reliable Wife, American Wife, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Bel Canto, Case Histories, Moby Dick, The Gulag Archipelago, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Fall of the House of Usher, Caligula, The Awakening, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Johnny got His Gun, A Farewell to Arms, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Wuthering Heights, Silas Marner, Their Eyes Were Watching God, I Capture the Castle, the children’s books Caps for Sale and The Monster at the End of This Book, and of course, the infamous Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe.
Young Jane Young is the newest book by Gabrielle Zevin. She has also written Elsewhere, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, Margarettown, All These Things I’ve Done and its sequels.
Another hilarious bestseller about a bookstore owner (though mobile in a converted van) is The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan.
A Man Called Ove is an encouraging tale about a widowed older man who finds purpose in life through the help of a neighbor and her young family.
Other hugely popular books about bookstore owners include First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland, and The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson.
“Most people’s problems would be solved if they would only give more things a chance.”
“A theft is an acceptable social loss while a death is an isolating one.”
“What, in this life, is more personal than books?”
“The real difficulty of living alone is that no one cares if you are upset.”
“If this were a short story, you and I would be done by now. A small ironic turn and out. That’s why there’s nothing more elegant in the prose universe than a short story.”
“Remember that a fine education can be found in places other than the usual.”
“I don’t want to die. I just find it difficult to be here all the time.”
“...the necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives...the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life.”
“Love...what a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.”
“You know everything you need to know about a person from their answer to the question ‘What is your favorite book?’”
“Some books don’t find us until the right time.”
“...what it is to lose someone. How it isn’t one thing. He writes about how you lose and lose and lose.”
“All I can say is we’ll figure it out...When I read a book, I want you to be reading it at the same time. I want to know what would Amelia think of it. I want you to be mine. I can promise you books and conversation and all my heart.”
“It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us, but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable.”
“‘Show, don’t tell’ is a complete crock of shit...It comes from Syd Field’s screenplay books, but it doesn’t have a thing to do with novel writing. Novels are all tell. The best ones at least. Novels aren’t meant to be imitation screenplays.”
“...cops go one of two ways as they get older. They either get more judgmental or less so. Lambiase is not so rigid as when he was a young police officer. He has found that people do all sorts of things, and they usually have their reasons.”
“The real gift of the holiday season is that it ends.”
“We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and then.”
“Why is it so much easier to write about the things we dislike/hate/acknowledge to be flawed than the things we love”
“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone... In the end, we are collected works.”
“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.”
© 2018 Amanda Leitch
Naude Lorenzo on May 28, 2018:
An amazing story and a delicious recipe, I'm about to become a baker with so many delicious cup cakes, Thanks Amanda