Review: The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
By Gabrielle Zevin

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

If you like protagonists who like books about book-lovers who also happen to be booksellers who are a little persnickety and very sad and somewhat lost in the beginning and then, over time and many life-altering changes, become nearly lovable, pay attention!
Author Zevin proves early on that she is one very well-read woman by weaving into her story clever book title references and interesting writer tidbits I found impressive. Her authorial empathy for a plucky middle-aged man (Fikry) with an enormous chip on his skinny shoulder gave the story compelling turns and there is one surprise twist I did not see coming, make that two.
Before you even begin reading the actual ‘meat’ of this novel, each chapter begins with a brief short story review that at the start seemed kind of odd, but eventually made total sense. The first one is a review of the famous short story, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ by Ronald Dahl. You eventually learn the reviewer is the star of the book, Fikry himself. These clever inserts not only share his philosophical viewpoints, but act as a brief summation of what is to come.
As with any retail sales environment, there exists the middle world of sales reps eager to offer their wares and in this case that is one person in particular; Amelia Loman.
“She is thirty-one years old and she thinks she should have met someone by now. And yet…Amelia the bright-sider believes it is better to be alone than to be with someone who doesn’t share your sensibilities and interests. (It is, right?)”
And here is a taste of what Fikry himself is like;
“Like?” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be—basically gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel of the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like…”
Though he doth complain, he eventually sees someone he could love and, more importantly, someone who can love him with all his torn pages and abrupt segues. The story almost entirely takes place on a fictional island off Massachusetts called, Alice Island, and it is there that Island Books bookstore becomes the center stage for this story to unfold. This book has it all; tragedy, romance, comedy and mystery and most of all it has soul.
The only moment I felt author Zevin pushed the sentimental envelope to the edge was when a small baby was left behind in the poorly stocked Children’s and Young Adult section of Island Books. Can we say, “tired author trick?” But, this miniature bundle of pamper-filling joy left behind by her soon-to-be-dead mother holds the key to Fikry’s broken heart and will certainly change yours.
“We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”
Touché!

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Book Review: Killer Of The Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBIKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Killer Of The Flower Moon
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
By David Grann
Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson
“In the 1920’s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.”
Author, David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a bestselling author. In this well documented and thoroughly researched book, he sheds light on another dark chapter in American history.
In the early 1870’s, The Osage Indians were forced from their land in Kansas onto what was then considered a worthless rocky reservation in northeastern Oklahoma. But as the oil industry boomed, this ‘worthless’ land was just the rugged surface features atop one of the biggest oil reserves in the US. Oil prospectors paid the Osage royalties and in the early Twentieth Century, each member on the tribal roll started receiving checks. Big. Huge. Checks. They eventually got millions. This sudden wealth had equally sudden consequences.
America, fed by a racist and sensationalistic press, went bananas over stories of the Osage community’s sudden blast to the rich life. Their fame attracted the worst sort of corrupt white men with unscrupulous designs for attaining the ‘headrights’ or the heritable shares of oil royalties owed individual members of the Osage Nation
The Osage began to be killed, but the local authorities and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, for the most part, failed to uphold justice or the law. The growing backlog of unsolved murders was brought to the attention of Washington in 1925 by a local lawman, James M. Pyle, who sought assistance from the Bureau of Investigation. The wealth of some of the Osage victims attracted national press and became an ‘embarrassment’ for the newly formed FBI, so J. Edgar Hoover appointed a former Texas ranger with the unfortunate name of Thomas B. White to investigate. The Osage murders were in some ways the FBI’s first big case, and one that Hoover used to help make his mark on Washington and re-create the image of the FBI as a solid investigatory agency.
Author Grann weaves a compelling tale through years of research and the staggering amount of evidence that identified one man, William Hale, as a mastermind behind the slaughter of at least twenty of the Osage. As Grann’s reputation as a researcher became known throughout the Osage community, ancestors of victims sought him out to share their stories of family members disappearing and fortunes lost. He realized the murderous rein was not limited to the government’s original estimate of 24 Osage members, but was easily in the hundreds and involved multiple murderers. Hale was finally convicted of murder in 1929 and jailed for life, but was paroled in 1947. Nearly all of the other murders remain unsolved.
After decades of mismanagement of the oil rights of the Osage by the Department of the Interior; “In 2011, the US government settled with the Osage for $380 million. The settlement also strengthened management of the tribe’s trust assets and improved communications between the Department of Interior and the tribe.”
There is no easy way for our nation to make amends to the Osage survivors. No simple explanation to explain away the prejudice that led to so much murderous loss of not only human life, but the completely illegal confiscation of wealth that was rightfully theirs. This well written chronicle goes the distance to return the Osage to their due place in American history, but will we do ours and re-write the history books?

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Do YOU Know What A Sandbakkel Is?

At every meal my dad says the Norwegian Table Prayer. Then he always follows it by saying, “Grab a root and growl.” I have always simply assumed that is pretty much part of the prayer too. At least if you want to eat at his table, it is.

 

Traditions.

 

Another one that has been going on since I can remember is the creation of Sandbakkels every Christmas season. Using the same recipe (my mom has tweaked) my dad’s mom’s mom used and with my dad mentioning before we sit down at the card table to ‘pinch’ the dough into tins,

 

“No pinchy, no eaty!”

 

Really. Every. Single. Year.

 

Once the little gems are in the oven and we’re working on pan two or three, I wonder why in the world I do this. It’s a lot of work and you have to sit still and then, once my dad is all warmed up and we’re there, his audience, I realize the why part.

 

Being together.

 

So, this coming year I will once again gather at my folks, my mom will have made the dough, adding the secret ingredient at the last moment and then off we’ll pinch and my dad will begin sharing the same stories I’ve heard a hundred times and I’ll look up and smile…

 

By the way, a Sandbakkel is a Norwegian cookie and no, we don’t fill them with anything. These are the tins we pinch them into.

 

(walnut-size blob of dough and pinch and pinch and pinch)

November and NO Snow—Nice…

sunflowers-on-the-porch

 

This is our front door and those awesome sunflowers we grew from seed. Even at my age I still feel there’s a touch of magic in growing things. It just never ceases to amaze me that you can grow something so darn beautiful from a little seed that fits in your palm.

 

Love the mystery of it.

 

Could be why I enjoy the art and freedom and yes, mystery of writing. When the words are flying into my head and zipping through my fingers and onto the laptop-page, well trust me, I feel something. Not a believer in having a muse or wearing a lucky hat or all that other stuff so many authors seem to lean on. I simply read a poem to warm up, or gaze at a bouquet of wild flowers or sneak a look out my window, and if things are unfolding with my story in all the right ways (or wrong) off I zoom!

 

If the words are not lined up and ready to move onto the page, I get up and do something else. If I force the work—that’s exactly how it will read.

 

So, if inspiration doesn’t come into your current project—

 

Know that in the spring the seeds will grow again and somewhere—the sun is always shining.

Get Hoppy—It’s National Frog Month!

Toad

Welcome to spring and maybe to your first time over here in/on/with my personal website. It’s hard to know precisely how much effort to load into this baby since I am a trusty Facebook dude and post over there constantly. But don’t ask my mom, she is rarely on. Too busy.

 

Yet here I can expand more and not feel as though the entire world (wishful thinking, I would imagine) is going to pop in and place judgement. Being National Frog Month I will hop around a tad, taking advantage of this silly premise because as everyone knows, every day is Frog day—or rather Toad Time!

 

I am partial to toads.

 

Frogs, in my book, can take a leap.

 

Honestly.

 

They tend to be on the slimy side and have only croaks and ribbits to share where’s toads tend toward handing out warts and hop more than swim and certainly are more into hanging in the garden than splashing around in the pond—pad-to-pad—as it were.

 

And since we’re on the subject, (you started this after all, hopping over here) I really find it rather odd why on earth folks munch frog legs and then, on top of it all, say the most ridiculous things such as:

 

“…Tastes like chicken!” Usually with a miniature Kermit-like foot hanging from their surly lips. Is that what a lion murmurs finishing off a human?

 

These and other priceless gems are what you get to devour when you hop on over to this webpage. And don’t forget to add your very own comments and thoughts and ideas of things you’d like to know more about and skip the frog recipes please and that would go double time for toad.

 

Now hop outside and don’t forget to take a book!