Ariana Zoto with Jamal Belica

Jay R. Crook, Ph.D.

James Patterson

James Patterson

“The first thing I do in any town I come to is ask if it has a bookstore,” (Robert Frost). In his time, most towns of any size had one or more bookstores. (TUCSON) These days, however, in many smaller towns he might frequently search in vain. Bookstores, especially independent bookstores with small but knowledgeable staffs, are declining in number under the assault of higher costs, an aging bookreading public and big business represented by the major bookselling chains and the on-line giant Amazon.

James Patterson

Best-selling author James Patterson has been concerned about these problems: the decline of the independent bookstore with their personalized services for the reader and a parallel decline in the introduction of young readers to the joys of reading. As a boy, I was raised in an atmosphere of books. My father was almost always reading when he had the leisure, usually books about history, while I was reading the exciting Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Albert Payson Terhune’s stories about brave collies. While youngsters of today still use books in school, I suspect that many fulfill their fantasies more often with on-line games than in the pages of a book.

Not only has Mr. Patterson been concerned about these problems, he has also put his money where his mouth is and created a £250,000 fund—about $420,000—to deal with them; specifically the decline of the independent bookstore and the introduction of the joy of reading books to children in Britain. His interests go beyond just providing money; he also provides reading material for that age group and was selected by young people as the Children’s Choice Book Award “Author of the Year” in 2010.

Ariana Zoto with James Patterson New York City

Earlier this year, he made a commercial for the latest volume in his Middle School series, Save Rafe! As it happens, one member of our circle has actually met and worked with him during its shoot: 10-year-old model, actress, singer, and recent Student of the Month, Ariana Zoto.

Ariana Zoto Student of the Month


Jamal and Ariana with Dr. Jay R. Crook via Skype

I had a three-way Skype conversation with her and her frequent partner in Aldin Entertainment Music Studios, 12-year-old Jamal Belica. I asked her how it was to meet and work with a famous author.

“It was really exciting,” she said and went on to describe her meeting with him. She finished with a giggle, “He was really nice to me and all the others.” “Have you read any of his books? I asked.

Jamal with Ariana/Local Book store 2014

“Yes, and I going to read Save Rafe! next.” She held up a copy and displayed its colorful cover depicting the young hero Rafe in a boat  surrounded by sharks.

Ariana and Jamal hold Save Rafe! by James Patterson

“She talked a lot about it,” Jamal put in. “She really liked working with him.” I asked Jamal what he thought about the importance of children’s books. “I like them,” he said. “I think I understand now how important books are and how much fun they can be. Once you get into a good book, especially one with a lot of action, you see it in your mind instead of on a television screen or a movie screen. It’s a different thing, like you can imagine you’re right there with the hero.”  “What do you think of Mr. Patterson’s fund to support independent bookstores and encourage adolescent reading in England?” “I think it’s a great idea. Don’t you, Ariana?”

Son’s first hero, daughter’s first love

“Oh, yes! Especially after meeting Mr. Patterson.”
“What do you think about the importance of parents in forming good reading habits?” I asked them both. Ariana replied first: “I think it is very important. My parents are always saying I should read books besides my schoolbooks. Besides, they’re fun!”  “Yes,” Jamal said. “My parents say the same thing. We have the oldest public library in the country right here in Franklin and they have a special section for young adults. It’s really neat!” “So we can agree,” I said, “that reading for pleasure is probably almost as important as reading your schoolbooks.”

Ariana with JB Summer Set Mall

Thanks to Skype, I could see them both nodding their heads vigorously.

Rev. Dr. Jonathan Lee

My colleague, Agron Belica, has been in touch with others about the Patterson article. He passed this comment on to me from the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Lee of Hartford Seminary and I think it is worthy of being included here as it discusses another aspect of the problem of educating future generations to the value and pleasures of reading at an early age. While Mr. Patterson has concentrated primarily on the problems of independent book stores and the importance of providing a good reading environment for future generations, the Rev. Dr. Lee discusses another important aspect of the whole book reading experience of the digital-age, the role of public libraries:

“Having been raised myself with a healthy appreciation for the shelves of the independent bookstore, I admire James Patterson’s generous attempt to sustain them in England. Still, as he rightly notes, such support will not solve the larger problem; it seems instead that hope for hard copy volumes, and conversation around and about them, lies in the public library. Amazon could be ‘the savior of reading’ were it to lend financial support—or its wealth of books themselves—to local libraries, which can continue to serve as the gathering place for readers of all ages, as well as the source of nurture for a love of reading from early on. The local library will never be a threat to Amazon, and is ideally positioned to guarantee the perpetuation of a reading population—long after the independent bookseller, sadly, is no more.”

I think the Rev. Dr. Lee’s observations are well taken. The two approaches complement each other. If we are to preserve the pleasure of reading books for future generations, we need more support for our public libraries, while for bookstores and books for the young, James Patterson has set a good example for us with his writings and his generous grant. Both approaches require more public support. In this situation, “actions speak louder than words.”

“Read on, Macduff!” (Shakespearean misquote)

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