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The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

Staff Profile
Rosangel Flores-Rubio
Rosangel Flores-Rubio
Executive Editor

Q&A With World’s Bestselling Author James Patterson

James+Patterson+holds+the+Guinness+Book+of+World+Record+for+the+most+New+York+Times+bestselling+titles%2C+with+over+260.+Photo+courtesy+of+James+Patterson
James Patterson holds the Guinness Book of World Record for the most New York Times bestselling titles, with over 260. Photo courtesy of James Patterson

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author. He holds the Guinness Book of World Record for the most New York Times bestselling titles, with over 260. He is also a fervent believer in the importance of literacy. To that end, he has given millions of dollars to support universities, teachers’ colleges, bookstores, and libraries. He also supports scholarships for college students. He is the recipient of the Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation for “a lifetime achievement in expanding the audience for books and reading.” Recently, he has joined a group of prominent authors who have raised more than $3 million for PEN America, a writers’ organization that supports freedom of expression.

 

Your books have sold almost half a billion copies. You have more than 260 bestselling novels. What do you think makes a good story?

I’ll give you my sum-up on what I do. I try to pretend there’s one person sitting across from me, and I don’t want them to get up until I’m finished. I have this monster imagination; I could write about anything. 

There are so many different ways to tell stories. I almost never give advice to people. I try not to, anyway. But the one thing I always say to people is: What you’re nodding your head at, ignore that, because you already do it. The stuff that you shake your head ‘No’ at, that’s what you should think about, that’s what you’re not doing, and if you don’t change, you probably won’t get any better. 

I’m reading your life story, James Patterson by James Patterson, and it’s an exciting book. One thing I’ve noticed is that you value struggle and tough times. For example, you remember with respect the experiences you had in a competitive environment with tough kids when you attended Manhattan College and you think this prepared you for the world. Do you think books help prepare high school kids for the world?  

Sure. Absolutely. Books are great at this. TV and movies are getting better, but books—it’s really important that through reading, we can see different ways of living, different ways of looking at the world, and different ways of getting through life. 

Here is an interesting idea–I didn’t write this, but I love it–it’s incredibly valuable to me; it has driven my life for the last year or so in terms of what projects I do and a lot of things. I think it’s important for kids, going into college: My time here is short; what can I do most beautifully? It might be raising a family. It might be being a potter. It might be writing songs. It might be writing books. It might be being a lawyer. Who knows? But the question is: what can I do most beautifully? What’s in my skillset? You should think about this, a lot, because if you make the right choices early on, you’ll probably have a more satisfying life, or a better chance at it anyway.

I think it’s great for parents to be involved [in their kids’ reading]. But this whole thing about banning books–give me a break. It’s all on the internet. What are you going to do, ban the internet? It’s not happening. It’s on their phone, it’s on their computer. So the best thing you can do is try to bring your kids up in a good way to be moral and people with a conscience.

— James Patterson

Do you think that high school kids should be protected from tough material?  

The whole thing about parents’ responsibilities is huge right now. I think that when we get into this notion of what should be in the libraries, it’s kind of silly. Why are people worrying about it? My notion in general is: you take care of your house, I’ll take care of mine. I don’t usually need strangers to tell my family members what they should read or what they shouldn’t read. However, if one good thing comes out of this whole mess, I think it’s useful–especially with really little kids–that parents are involved. So if your kid is seven years old, and he or she brings home The Hunger Games, I think you can say, ‘I’m not sure you’re ready for that, I think it’s kind of a violent story, and I don’t know if you should be reading that when you’re seven years old,’ and that’s valid. I think it’s great for parents to be involved [in their kids’ reading]. But this whole thing about banning books–give me a break. It’s all on the internet. What are you going to do, ban the internet? It’s not happening. It’s on their phone, it’s on their computer. So the best thing you can do is try to bring your kids up in a good way to be moral and people with a conscience. 

Last year, your Maximum Ride series was banned from two elementary school libraries in Florida. The books were determined to be appropriate only for middle school students. Can you talk about what it was like to have your books removed from school libraries? 

It is, once again, so silly. Maximum Ride has been read by 30 million kids, and it’s harmless. It’s so silly that you would take something as harmless as that series and ban it. The person who [filed the claim] hadn’t read any of them. Kids love ‘em. The thing about books with kids, is that you should give them a book that when they get done with it they say, ‘Give me another book.’ The objective, especially with little kids, is to get them to become confident readers. Give them books that make them interested in reading. Maximum Ride is one of those [series] that kids read and go, ‘Give me another book.’ 

Then you get into more serious stuff, like banning Toni Morrison. That’s just ridiculous. The latest was in Escambio County in Florida. They just banned over 1600 books, and they banned 11 of mine–which is nuts–but they’ve banned, like, 100 Bible stories, and the Bible Book Biography, and the biography of Thurgood Marshall, and Oprah. That’s nuts. How can that happen? It’s just so bizarre, and it’s fascist, and absurd; it makes no sense. Are there books that should be banned from young kids? Occasionally, yes, but it should be rare that we throw a book out, and it should be done in an intelligent way.

Most of life is tricky. That’s one of the things that annoys me so much; it’s that people want to pretend that life is black and white, and it isn’t. That’s one of the problems with book banning: it’s trying to make life so black and white.

— James Patterson

Can young readers grow and learn from reading books intended for students a couple years older than they are?  

Once again, it all depends on how sophisticated the kids are as readers and thinkers. Some kids get pretty sophisticated and grow up in a hurry, and some don’t. So it’s a tricky thing. Most of life is tricky. That’s one of the things that annoys me so much; it’s that people want to pretend that life is black and white, and it isn’t. That’s one of the problems with book banning: it’s trying to make life so black and white. 

I’ve invented the term thinkeracy, and I think they should teach thinkeracy in all the schools–it’s teaching kids how to think. Take a simple question from a parent, like ‘What are we going to do after school?’ The kid says, ‘I dunno.’ Are you going to read a book? Are you going to play soccer? Are you going to rob a liquor store? Just get them thinking, every day in school, with little kids especially, get them thinking past that first response, that first shake of the head, and get them in the habit of thinking, ‘Then what? What about this, what about that?’ Think it through. Go another step with it.

Until late December, when the law was blocked by a federal judge, my high school in the Iowa City Community School District was subject to Senate File 496, which was passed by the Iowa Legislature in May, 2023 and required all public school districts in Iowa to remove books that “depict or describe sex acts.”  Why do you think censorship has been so focused on books, and not, as you mentioned earlier, other material that is so easily accessible on the internet? Why are books being singled out?

It’s just politics. And it goes both ways. People are just playing games to get votes, unfortunately. I know you hate to hear that. It’s just unfortunate. 

And Iowa—the way the law was laid out was just too open, and that’s why you’re having a lot of those problems with people banning stuff, it’s very unfortunate. It doesn’t have to be the way it is in Texas. So much of this is political anyway. It’s not useful. It’s not useful to families. Some people think it is, but it really isn’t. Take care of your own family, that’s what you need to do. You don’t protect people by banning books in the library, it’s a silly exercise, for the most part. 

In general, demonizing people is what we tend to do now, I’ll give you an example: You hear a lot of stuff about Bill and Hillary Clinton and obviously, they’re friends of mine, because I wrote so many books with the President. People have their opinions about the Clintons and what they’re like. But the first time I went out to dinner with Bill and Hillary, during that dinner, three or four times they were holding hands under the table. People don’t think of them that way. They don’t think of them as human beings. If we just get down to one another as human beings, it would be helpful. 

The reality of these arguments is all big government or small government. That’s all it is. Do you want a big government to be funding a lot of programs and taking your tax dollars–and that’s a valid way to look at things. Or small government: Do you want it all to be kind of local? You’d be a devil to be only one side or the other. My grandfather, he was a wonderful guy, only graduated from sixth grade, but he was really a sweet, funny, smart man. In those days we had a lot of gatherings at holidays and in general, his rule was no politics and no religion at family get-togethers. And if you broke the rule, he’d take you to the door, and you’d go home. We need to do more of that. It makes me mad that we’ll sit there and demonize other people, and they’ll demonize us, and it’s nuts–it’s not useful. Unless it’s a world crisis, we don’t seem to be able to get together and work together. It would solve so many problems. The border dispute, what can we do about that? Let’s get together and figure out what the sanest thing we can do is to deal with the situation. Let’s do it quickly. 

Don’t get bogged down in the craziness of the world. It’s not good for you; it’s toxic. So try to do other things that make you joyful.

— James Patterson

What do you think is the biggest problem my generation will face in our lifetime? 

Water shortages are going to be massive. It’ll be huge, it’ll affect the West in a big way. It’s going to be catastrophic in Africa and Asia, I think. So that’s a big thing. 

And if we keep dividing people into these islands, that’s heartbreaking. You hope somehow that for everybody’s good, these islands will begin to see things they have in common, rather than things that pull them apart. The country has shown some ability to sort of bounce back. When we get over the top one way, at some point people go, ‘This is getting a little crazy, let’s balance it a bit,’ so I hope that happens at some point. I do feel bad about people your age now. When I was growing up we had this thing with Russia, and in those days we’d have these bomb drills because the United States was afraid of nuclear wars. That was a scary and somewhat real threat. But now there are so many things: global warming, what’s going on in the government, etc. So I hope you all can keep your heads above water and stay moderately sane. If you go out and it’s a nice day and the sun is shining, try to enjoy yourself. Don’t get bogged down in the craziness of the world. It’s not good for you; it’s toxic. So try to do other things that make you joyful. 

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Tai Caputo, Feature and Opinion Co-Editor
Tai has been to public schools in three different countries. She enjoys eating spicy foods.
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