I just recently read Gabrielle Zevin‘s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It’s a wonderful little hug of a book about books, and I was kind of enchanted with it. The writing is a little corny: the metaphors used, the unrealistic dialogue, the ending. But the corniness works for the most part, because it’s corny like a Christmas movie. Yes, we know what to expect and this makes it kind of silly when our expectations come to fruition, but it’s also comforting and familiar. Ultimately, very satisfying and just a lot of fun to read.
Like I said, this is a book about books. It makes a TON of references to other books, and so I wanted to catalog all of those references into a complete list. I’ll confess: I haven’t read a majority of these works, but I plan on adding a few of them to my “To Read” list. I’m including the author, the page number of Fikry the reference is found on, and, if it’s a short story, the collection it can be found in. I’ve also included links to the stories that I found via Google; I cannot verify the legality of any of those digital copies.
I won’t spoil the book any, although I will ACKNOWLEDGE THE EXISTENCE of characters and some mundane events in it.
Without further ado, a list of (hopefully) every literary reference in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry:
Dedication: Zevin thanks a boy who gave her The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov.
Epigraph: A few lines from Rumi’s “Come on Sweetheart” which can be found in Rumi: Fountain of Fire. Link to the poem.
Chapter Titles: Every chapter title is a short story. Each chapter is also introduced with a brief note from A.J. that discusses the story; some of those make mention of related works.
- “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl, p. 3. Included in the collection Someone Like You. Link to the whole story.
- In the discussion, Fikry also mentions Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.
- “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 27. Included in the collection The Diamond as Big as the Ritz & Other Stories.
- In the discussion, Fikry also mentions Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
- “The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Francis Bret Harte, p. 41. Included in the collection The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketeches. Link to the whole story.
- “What Feels Like the World” by Richard Bausch, p. 79. Included in the collection The Selected Stories of Richard Bausch.
- “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, p. 87. Included in the collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories; this collection is also mentioned on p. 128. Link to the whole story.
- “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain, p. 129. Included in a lot of collections and printed on its own, but this looks like the coolest version. Link to the whole story.
- The chapter discussion also mentions Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
- “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw, p. 159. Included in the collection Short Stories: Five Decades. Link to the whole story.
- “A Conversation with My Father” by Grace Paley, p. 173. Included in the collection Grace Paley: The Collected Stories. Link to the whole story.
- “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger, p. 187. Included in the collection Nine Stories. Link to the whole story if you have a New Yorker subscription.
- “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, p. 199. Included in the collection The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings. Link to the whole story.
- The discussion also mentions poets Adrienne Rich, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath.
- “Ironhead” by Aimee Bender, p. 213. Included in the collection Willful Creatures.
- Chapter discussion also mentions “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff, which is found in the collection The Night in Question. Link to the whole story.
- “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver, p. 239. Included in the collection of the same name.
- “The Bookseller” by Roald Dahl, p. 247. Included in the collection Roald Dahl: Collected Stories. Amusingly enough, originally published in Playboy.
- “Tamerlane”, a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, features prominently throughout the book, as does the author himself.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville is featured as the inspiration for the restaurant “The Pequod” and its “Queequeg” cocktails (the former is the ship in Moby Dick, the latter is a harpooner on the crew).
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is mentioned several times, primarily in reference to an argument between Fikry and a booksales rep. Fikry doesn’t like the book, but admits to not having finished it.
- Flannery O’Connor is featured many times in different contexts, and probably has the most references besides Poe.
- Works by J.R.R Tolkein are mentioned multiple times, primarily by Fikry, who delights in the “nerdiness” of such references.
- Page 19, Fikry is deciding on a book to read and mentions Old School by Tobias Wolff as “an old favorite.”
- Page 97, Fikry discusses the Turkish Delight found in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
- Page 115, Fikry compares television show True Blood with works by Flannery O’Connor, The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, and Caligula (presumably the play by Albert Camus, but possibly the film).
- Page 179, Fikry provides a long list of short stories to help with writing: “The Beauties” by Anton Chekhov, “The Doll’s House” by Katherine Mansfield, “A Perfect Day for Bananfish” by J.D. Salinger, “Brownies” or “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by ZZ Packer, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel, “Fat” by Raymond Carver, and “Indian Camp” by Ernest Hemingway.
- Page 223, Fikry says “The Grapefuit Rag” while trying to say The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
- Page 225, Fikry admits to only finishing the first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
Maya’s and Other Children’s/YA Books:
- Page 48, Maya’s first appearance includes Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
- Page 61, Maya loves and Fikry hates The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone (illus. Michael Smollin).
- Page 72, Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (illus. Jen Corace).
- Page 85, Caps for Sale by (written and illustrated) Esphyr Slobodkina.
- Page 123, Maya mentions From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.
- Page 145, Maya is reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.
- Page 147, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
- Page 156, Maya is reading The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by Matthew Tobin Anderson.
- Page 8, Amelia separates good male characters from good male romantic partners, mentioning the examples of Humbert Humbert (Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita), Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye), Edward Rochester (Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre), and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice).
- Page 117, Amelia has a bobblehead of Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
- Page 135, Amelia realizes she didn’t understand Charming Billy until she heard author Alice McDermott read it out loud.
- Page 177, Amelia’s first literary crush is either John Irving or Ann M. Martin.
Ismay’s Plays and Books:
- Page 56, The Crucible by Arthur Miller.
- Page 203, Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
- Page 205, Ismay lists the books she teaches frequently: Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Silas Marner by George Eliot, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
Lambiase’s Books and the Chief’s Choice Book Club:
- Jeffrey Deaver is mentioned repeatedly as being Lambiase’s and the group’s favorite author.
- Page 23, Fikry and Lambiase discuss books for the first time. Fikry mentions Raymond Carver, but Lambiase hasn’t read him. Lambiase mentions Jeffery Deaver’s character Lincoln Rhyme and John Steinbeck’s novella The Red Pony as examples of things he has read.
- Page 72, in discussing what books to recommend Lambiase, Fikry mentions Jeffery Deaver, James Patterson, Elmore Leonard, Jo Nesbø, Walter Mosley, and Cormac McCarthy, as well as Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.
- Page 104, the book club is reading James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential.
- Page 201, the book club is discussing a book that involves a stolen Stradivarius violin. I’m not sure what book is being referenced exactly, but it looks like it could be several?
- Page 236, Lambiase regrets the choice of The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III for the book club.
- Page 46, a customer is upset at Fikry having recommended she read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.
- Page 68, a character cites Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett as the motivation for her career.
- Page 71, Fikry organizes a book group for mothers. They read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.
- Page 106, a character praises Jose Canseco’s Juiced. Fikry is not pleased.
- Page 143, a character cites The Bible and Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom as their favorite books.
- Page 164, an event in the book reminds a character of The Awakening by Kate Chopin.
- Page 168, a character compares her relationship with Aesop’s fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper”.
- Page 252, bookstores are important because of who hands your daughter A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle or who recommended Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
- Page 257, a character mentions having a tattoo of a quote by C.S. Lewis about books. There are several possibilities.
- Zevin mentions American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Alphabetical List of All Authors Mentioned:
- On a separate page because it’s long. Link.
- 80 authors. And, because VIDA always has this in the back of my mind, 34 are female and 46 are male.
Wow, that was a lot more work than I expected. Corrections are welcome and probably needed.
Last minute shoppers rejoice?
With the holiday season here, I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual around young people, and for me that means reading is pushed to the front of my head. What books should I read out loud to my niece? What books should I recommend to friends with older children? This train of thought led me to some list making, and I came up with ten books I would recommend to academically gifted students. Note, I left out a lot of GREAT books in favor of ones that have a specific appeal to kids who are a little different from their peers–maybe they’re a little more clever, and maybe they have a little harder time fitting in. The following ten books are what I came up with, and they appear in roughly the order of their age appropriateness.
Being able to look at ideas from new perspectives is an important skill, and in this case, it’s hilarious. The fact that these target very traditional stories makes them extra appealing. I list these together since they’re by the same creator, and based on the same concept.
E. L. Konigsburg gets two entries on this list for being awesome. This book begins with the premise of a child running away to a museum, which should be enough in and of itself, but the rest of the story is full of cleverness and inquiry.
The movie is pretty good, but Dahl’s book is the real deal (in no small part due to Quentin Blake’s illustrations). Matilda goes up against an evil school headmaster and some pretty awful parents using her intelligence and a few small superpowers.
This book, also by Konigsburg, is the very first one I thought of when I envisioned this list. The plot centers around the four members of an Academic Bowl (Quiz Bowl) team, and the life experiences that have led them to come together and be able to do win the academic competitions. My description isn’t doing the book justice… I read it a dozen or so times as a child, and I think any child, especially those with a connection to this type of team, will fall in love with it as well.
The only book on this list to have adult protagonists, The Westing Game is a fantastic puzzle of a book. I remember rereading it multiple times once I knew the “answer” to see the clues leading up to the ending.
Despite having a pretty wonderful home life, I still often fantasized about running away, convinced I could make it on my own. This book was a great way to live out that fantasy, while still being reminded that it wasn’t as simple of an idea as it sounded in my head.
7) Ender’s Game
Although Card’s later works got a little… weird, this book is still an intense sci-fi story about being the best of the best, and about how alienating a “gift” can be. You can see a lot of the inspiration for the Hunger Games series here.
I was very sad when the movie for this ended up not doing well, especially because I think they did an amazing job with the casting. I love, love, love this trilogy, but the first book is by far the best, and Lyra is a fascinating protagonist. Parts of the plot depend on her being able to quickly persuade adults into believing her, both by logic and by lies. Plus, it has bears in armor. Also, this book probably belongs in the Middle School section, but the 2nd and 3rd books in the series are a slight step up.
I left out Catcher in the Rye from this list, because I think it should be on everyone’s list, and because I think A Separate Piece and the last book on this list fill its role for an academically gifted teenager just as well, if not better. A Separate Piece is the best portrayal of the kind of intense friendships that anyone can develop, but tend to pop up among the academically gifted due to their lack of connection to the majority of their peers: when they find someone they can connect with, they latch on with a passion.
The reason I prefer Perks to Catcher for this particular list is that Catcher‘s Caulfield is on his own throughout most of the book–this book delves into the same isolating personality that Caulfield has, but shows what that looks like in a more modern, more realistic life. I’m not a huge fan of the ending, but c’est la vie. This book is pretty explicit in material, but my recommendation is, of course, that reading it and having a conversation about it is a better path than trying to censor it.