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James Patterson’s passion: Getting kids to read

  • James Patterson introduces his book 'Treasure Hunters' while dressed in character. (via Facebook)

NEW YORK — James Patterson, king of the airport novelists, spent much of the week before last being celebrated by the nation’s independent booksellers.

On its face, it seems like an irony: Author of unabashedly commercial fiction earns plaudits from snooty vendors of capital “L” Literature.

But when you dig deeper, there is, of course, more to the story than a couple of easy stereotypes clashing. Independent bookstores, the ones that survive, are doing a better job of not looking down their noses at a reader who just wants a good mystery or crime novel.

And Patterson is not “some numskull who writes numskull books,” as he summed up the stereotype about him during interviews at Book Expo America, the nation’s largest publishing trade show. His work to help the indies, including a $1 million cash giveaway throughout 2014, stems from a long-standing commitment to boost reading, especially among children.

Time and again, people would approach him at the expo and say things like this, from a woman who has a store in Brooklyn:

“Can I just say hello? I’m an indie bookseller, and I want to say thank you for what you’re doing.”

And Patterson, 67, would say things in response like, “Excellent. Wonderful. We never know unless we try stuff.” And this, to a reporter accompanying him, as the onslaught of kudos grew, “They’re all plants.”

You could see him winning the Hudson News Prize, if such a thing existed: He’s written or co-written about 100 books and sold a reported 300 million. Eight of his titles, as writer or co-writer, are on the shelves of a Hudson News at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. At the end of “Alex Cross, Run,” the latest in the series about the Washington, D.C., detective that is the foundation of his empire, it takes almost four pages, in tiny print, to do the also-by-James-Patterson list.

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