James Patterson's Latest Nonfiction Reveals the 'Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians' (Exclusive) (2024)

James Patterson's Latest Nonfiction Reveals the 'Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians' (Exclusive) (1)

When James Patterson set out to write his newest nonfiction book, The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians, he intended the title to be “a little chuckle.” But what he and his co-author Matt Eversmann discovered is that there’s a lot more to the work that goes on in libraries and bookstores than the average person ever sees.

“One of the bookstore owners, she was being a little facetious, but the first question she asked potential employees is, ‘Do you like to clean toilets?’” Patterson tells PEOPLE. “And what she's trying to get at and what people don't understand is it's really hard work.”

And Patterson should know — his mom was both a teacher and a librarian when he was growing up. She used to bring him and his sisters along to the library on Saturdays, which the author credits, in part, for instilling his love of reading. That love, he says, is key to why so many booksellers and librarians got into the profession, and why they stay in it.

“The rewards for most booksellers and for most librarians is turning people on to books,” he explains, adding that he’s experienced that same reward in his own life. “Where they go, ‘I love that book.’ Or, ‘My kid loved that book’.”

One of the more well-known booksellers he spoke with is children’s book author Judy Blume, who co-owns Books and Books in Key West, Fla. She told Patterson and his co-author that she loves being at the bookstore, for many of the same reasons the rest of her cohort does “And she doesn't have to,” Patterson adds.

Throughout the interviewing and research process, Patterson said he was especially surprised by the level of work that goes into librarians’ and booksellers’ jobs. “I don't think I was aware of how much hard work they do,” he says. But what he did already know was how poorly compensated a lot of them are for that work. Every year since 2015, Patterson has donated $500 “holiday bonus” checks to librarians and booksellers across the country. And every time he does, he hears from grateful employees who use the money for mostly practical purposes.

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“The amazing thing is I get notes from almost every single person that you give 'em to. And it'll be things like, ‘I got the check and I went to the dentist this year,’ or ‘I got the check, and for the first time in four years, I gave my parents some presents,’” he recalls. “It really brings home the fact that so many of these people, they really do need the money.”

The book comes at a fraught time for literacy champions in the United States, with rampant book bans sweeping the country. That makes librarians’ and booksellers’ jobs even more challenging, something Patterson says came up again and again in his interviews. He relayed that many of the people he spoke with have been on the receiving end of “a lot of verbal threats,” that has made the job scary for many. “These people work too hard and they're trying to do the right thing,” he adds.

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For his part, Patterson says he gets asked about his perspective on book bans all the time, since some of his work has been on the receiving end.

“A lot of these people [who are asking for books to be banned], they're not paying attention to what booksellers and librarians are really all about. And coming to these judgments based on nothing really,” he explains. “And I encourage families, parents to be involved with their children. I think it's great if parents get involved and they should watch the phones and the Internet and the internet and the phones are a lot more dangerous, in theory, than the library is.”

James Patterson's Latest Nonfiction Reveals the 'Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians' (Exclusive) (3)

Here's what one of the authors featured in the book, Texas library consultant Carolyn Foote, had to say in an exclusive excerpt shared with PEOPLE:

Having a good library is not political. A good library will have books on vegetarianism and on hunting. A good library will have books on every religion. A good library will have books about different countries, different cultures, and different life experiences.

I became a school librarian in 1991, working in a small suburban school district in Texas. In 2021 I notice an unprecedented—and frightening—trend of activists and conservative groups demanding that certain books be removed from libraries and classrooms. Their primary targets are books dealing with diversity and equality.

By the fall of that year, I’m also seeing books that deal with racism or include topics like sex and sexual identity, puberty, reproduction, pregnancy and abortion being challenged.

It’s alarming.

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When a book is challenged, the first step is an informal discussion with the parent who lodged the complaint. My job—every librarian’s job—is to listen to the parent or parents and help them figure out the best way to handle the matter with their child.

Librarians believe parents have a say when it comes to what their child reads. But if a parent comes in and says, “We don’t want any children to read such-and-such book,” that’s setting the standard for someone else’s family.

And that’s the catch in all of this.

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The hope I see now is in community groups starting to push back, showing up at school board meetings, getting organized in groups and circulating important information. Censorship fights are dependent on communities coming out to support intellectual freedom and on students participating in advocacy.

It feels like people are starting to wake up to this more and more, understanding that we need to stand up for our libraries and our librarians.

They need our support more than ever.

Excerpted from The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians. Used with permission from Little, Brown and Company

The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians is available now, wherever books are sold.

James Patterson's Latest Nonfiction Reveals the 'Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians' (Exclusive) (2024)
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