Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gabrielle Zevin at the Southern Festival of Books

Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, was the author I was most looking forward to hearing at the Southern Festival of Books. She was funny, and interesting, and I actually ended up hearing her twice.

Zevin was first published when she was fourteen and wrote an angry letter to the editor about a Guns 'n' Roses concert. She was then asked to be the newspaper's teen music critic. She's the author of eight novels for adults and young adults.

It was Zevin's third time at the Southern Festival of Books. This time, she was there to talk about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a book that celebrates independent bookstores and booksellers. A bookseller finds a toddler in a bookstore in a story that shows how books can make a difference in a life.

In Feb. 2004, Zevin sold her first novel. Her second novel sold in July. Zevin said she has talked to other authors who, like her, have very sad first novel stories. There's a gap between expectations and realities.

Gabrielle Zevin loves bookstores. When she was her child, her parents would go grocery shopping and give her money to go to the bookstore so she could buy anything she wanted. Now, no one would let a child in a bookstore by herself, but at that time her parents thought nothing bad could happen in a bookstore. And nothing ever has.

Zevin asked two questions in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. "Why do bookstores matter?" "How do the stories we read define our lives?"  In the book, Maya's mother left her in a bookstore. Zevin said "Children who read become adults who want to know."

Gabrielle Zevin's parents took her to the library every week like it was church. They went to Burger King, then the library. Her parents were in computers. Her grandfather bought her books. He had been a great old Communist who wrote letters to The New Yorker.  When she was twelve, he gave her a book that he said would change her life. He gave her Satanic Verses. According to Zevin, "Children don't become readers by accident."

To Gabrielle Zevin, bookstores represent good. The French government has classified books as an essential good like food, bread, water, electricity.

Zevin thinks all published authors should belong to at least one book club. There are a number of book clubs in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Booksellers are useful as to choosing books. There's a sales rep in the book. Zevin had never thought about how a book gets from a publisher to a bookstore. A sales rep is really important. There will be between 150,000 and 250,000 books published, and the same number of self-published books next year. How do you choose? Booksellers and librarians are important.

Bookstores are about the future of literary culture. Booksellers are curators of what's good. Zevin said in England there's a program that prescribes books for people who are depressed. That's how important books are seen to be.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is Gabrielle Zevin's eighth novel. She wrote three YA novels in a row that nobody wanted. So, when she wrote Fikry she wrote the best book she could in case she never wrote another one.

Gabrielle Zevin's website is


Beth Hoffman said...

Thanks so much for this post, Lesa. I especially loves this: "Zevin said in England there's a program that prescribes books for people who are depressed. That's how important books are seen to be."

Lesa said...

Maybe that's why I don't get depressed, Beth. Enough reading.

Clea Simon said...

Ha! I was going to single out the same quote. Great piece. Great idea.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Clea! As I said, I heard her a couple times, once as part of a panel. And, she was good both times.

Libby Dodd said...

And it is a delightful book.

Lesa said...

I agree, Libby. I really enjoyed it.

Kaye Barley said...

She sounds every bit as lovely as I had hoped after reading her book which is one of the best books I've read this year. Maybe ever.

Lesa said...

It is a wonderful book, Kaye, and she was fascinating to listen to. Very engaging.