Lina Benich ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
As a small crowd gathered under the Mash Stage tent at the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Lit Fest, the premise of the author-interviewer interaction was very clear. Gabrielle Zevin, author of Elsewhere and other novels, was going to be interviewed by Kevin Nance, contributor to the Washington Post and other media sources, about Zevin’s newest novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. While the necessary questions about the plot and characters were answered, it seemed this panel would merely promote Zevin and her newest book. However, the conversation quickly changed into a fascinating look into the world of publishing and booksellers, as well as the importance of local bookshops.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry tells the story of a curmudgeony widowed bookseller with strong opinions by the name of A.J. Fikry, and his interaction with a young book rep Emilia. When asked where such a specific type of story came from, Zevin replied that it came from “a lifetime of loving bookstores,” and after ten years in publishing, it was a world she was familiar with. The origin of Emilia’s relentless positivity, she explained as well, came from her belief that “optimism is a necessary quality in publishing.” This led into a conversation about local bookstores, as in the novel Fikry is the proud owner of a bookstore with particular tastes.
“Whenever people visit with me, they want to tell me about their bookstores,” Zevin notes, explaining that she views bookstores as representing the good in a community, because books are something beyond survival, like food, water, or clothes.
Zevin was also asked about her choice to write an adult novel over a Young Adult novel, and her perceptions on both. She commented that she thought the category a novel falls under (Young Adult or Adult) is mostly determined by the age of the characters. Zevin is an acclaimed Young Adult Fiction writer, winning the Border’s Original Voices Award in 2005 for Elsewhere, something Zevin herself finds funny looking back, because the two other nominees were John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. Part of the problem with the stigma of Young Adult fiction is that “we don’t have a long history of young adult ‘literature’,” Zevin says, and the Teen section lacks genre sophistication. She brought up the point that if someone were to walk into a bookstore, all of the Young Adult books will be put on the same shelf, with no consideration for the different genres. Zevin also says that she “Hates Making generalizations about teen readers.” Often, she says, people say that for a Young Adult novel “you have to give them hope at the end,” but her response is that “Adults also quite like hope.”
Gabrielle Zevin is the author of Elsewhere, and most recently The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Her books can be found online, and more information about Zevin can be found at her website: http://gabriellezevin.com.