Like,” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic 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 à la the literary detective novel or 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 anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and—I imagine this goes without saying—vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to. For your part, you needn’t tell me about the ‘next big series’ until it is ensconced on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Above all, Ms. Loman, I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter how many copies you promise I’ll sell on Mother’s Day.” Amelia blushes, though she is angry more than embarrassed. She agrees with some of what A.J. has said, but his manner is unnecessarily insulting. Knightley Press doesn’t even sell half of that stuff anyway. She studies him. He is older than Amelia but not by much, not by more than ten years. He is too young to like so little. “What do you like?” she asks. “Everything else,” he says. “I will also admit to an occasional weakness for short-story collections. Customers never want to buy them though.” There is only one short-story collection on Amelia’s list, a debut. Amelia hasn’t read the whole thing, and time dictates that she probably won’t, but she liked the first story. An American sixth-grade class and an Indian sixth-grade class participate in an international pen pal program. The narrator is an Indian kid in the American class who keeps feeding comical misinformation about Indian culture to the Americans. She clears her throat, which is still terribly dry. “The Year Bombay Became Mumbai. I think it will have special int—” “No,” he says. “I haven’t even told you what it’s about yet.” “Just no.” “But why?” “If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you’re only telling me about it because I’m partially Indian and you think this will be my special interest. Am I right?” Amelia imagines smashing the ancient computer over his head. “I’m telling you about this because you said you liked short stories! And it’s the only one on my list. And for the record”—here, she lies—“it’s completely wonderful from start to finish. Even if it is a debut. “And do you know what else? I love debuts. I love discovering something new. It’s part of the whole reason I do this job.” Amelia rises. Her head is pounding. Maybe she does drink too much? Her head is pounding and her heart is, too. “Do you want my opinion?” “Not particularly,” he says. “What are you, twenty-five?” “Mr. Fikry, this is a lovely store, but if you continue in this this this”—as a child, she stuttered and it occasionally returns when she is upset; she clears her throat—“this backward way of thinking, there won’t be an Island Books before too long.
Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)