James Patterson on the PageTurner Awards

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In early July, author James Patterson and Time Warner Book Group announced the debut of the James Patterson PageTurner Awards, annual cash prizes totaling $75,000, intended to single out and support the people, companies, schools, and other institutions that find original and effective ways to promote the excitement of books. The award program's ultimate goal is to help counter the sharp decline in reading reported by last year's National Endowment for the Arts' study, "Reading at Risk." Patterson recently spoke to BTW about why he established the awards and what he hopes to accomplish.

The PageTurner Awards' focus is less about literacy and more about getting current readers reading more, explained Patterson, who sees potential for many could-be readers to change their habits. "It's about people who can read, but don't, or don't very much," he said. "We need to convert more people to the idea that books are exciting."

Each year, two $25,000 prizes and 25 $1,000 prizes will be awarded. One $25,000 prize, the PageTurner Award, will go to a person, company, or institution that presents books to the public in an exciting and original way. The other, the PageTurner School Award, will be given to an elementary school, middle school, or high school that inculcates the joy of reading for pleasure in its students.

James Patterson

"I just want to bring more awareness to how much fun it is to read," Patterson said. "You hear all the time that the book was better than the movie. But Friday night comes, and people go out to the movies basically expecting to see something mediocre, and they're passing up hundreds of books that are better than the movie."

Patterson, whose last 16 novels have reached the top of the national bestseller lists, is much more likely to meet people who are regular readers, however. On tour, he often meets people who tell him that his books inspired them, or someone in their family, to begin reading again. "The best way to get people reading again is to give them books they really enjoy," he said.

Patterson believes the problem is too many people think reading is work. In part, he blames schools for assigning texts that bore students or for assigning too much too early. "My son has six book reports he has to write over the summer," he said. "He's seven. That's excessive. Reading shouldn't feel like a job."

Patterson wants to recognize the librarians, booksellers, and teachers who are working to battle the perception of reading as a chore. His hope is that he can help jump-start a better, wider PR campaign to foster reading by bolstering the efforts of those who are in the position to make a change. "I have visited a number of independent [bookstores], and I think they do a fabulous job," he said. "I want to single out those who are doing a terrific job and stimulate others to do a better job. I also want to get people to take a couple of minutes and think about nominating somebody."

Patterson plans for the PageTurner Awards to be an annual event, and he intends to sweeten the offer -- this year's cash prize is just a starting point. "Eventually, the sky's the limit," he said. "I think it's a great cause in an area that I'm passionate about. I suspect I'll give more than $75,000 this year. I've already seen a batch [of nominations] that were quite nice, and we're just getting started."

To be eligible for the PageTurner Awards, candidates must be able to demonstrate outstanding accomplishments (or ongoing efforts that have taken place) within the given calendar year. Any U.S. organization or citizen age 13 or older may be nominated by any U.S. citizen 18 years of age or older. Candidates for the school award must be a U.S.-accredited private or public primary, secondary, or vocational school or college. Merit candidates must meet the criteria of either the individual or school awards. The deadline for nominations is October 1, and winners will be announced by November 30.

Complete details and an online nomination form are available on the PageTurner site, www.pattersonpageturner.org. --Karen Schechner