October 1, 2020

Prince of Pulp Patterson props up pedagogues; teachers thanked with timely donation


Regardless of what one thinks about super-best-selling novelist James Patterson’s books—our managing editor confesses to not having read one word of the Newburgh, New York, native’s one hundred-plus tomes — he stands as one of the literary world’s unalloyed good guys. Last week Patterson announced that he is donating $2.5 million to teachers across the United States in order to “get the best books kids love to read into their hands this fall.” (It pains us to bring this up, but the syntax of this last clause, which creates the unlikely phrase “read into their hands”–as though the subjects were a tribe of small chiromancers–could have used some tinkering.) The gift is being disbursed in conjunction with the Scholastic Book Club and comprises 5000 grants of $500 (right? five times, uh, five, plus five zeroes … is … uh … look over there! a dog!).

In a statement, Patterson said that “over the past six months, reading has certainly helped me cope with the Covid-19 pandemic” (us too, James!) and that he “can only hope it will do the same for kids and teachers everywhere.” Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs, added, “Every child deserves the chance to lose themselves in a good book, and now more than ever, students are in need of a rich selection of stories they can choose from and explore.” Amen to that, we say!

Whatever his choice in sweaters, Patterson has a long history of financially supporting the foot soldiers of books and reading. Those of us here on John Street (virtually) who are former booksellers remember well his 2014 donation of $1 million specifically to indie booksellers—possibly a more impoverished and dispirited lot even than teachers. And according to the National Book Foundation, he “has donated more than one million books to students, emphasizing some of the most under-resourced schools and youth programs in the country. In 2015, Patterson donated $1.75 million to public school libraries throughout the United States, $1 million to independent bookstores, and a further $250,000 in holiday bonuses to individual bookstore employees.”

Cynics may decry these bonanzas as a PR scheme, quick to speculate about just how minuscule a percentage of his lifetime earnings are, but we tend to want to take good news of this stripe at face value. In a world where 94 percent of public school teachers report spending their own money on school supplies—to the tune of $750, on average, each—any relief is welcome.

Correction: The figure for average out-of-pocket teacher spending is $479 per annum, not $750. We have no idea where that $750 figure came from!



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.