James Patterson gives holiday bonuses to four Minnesota booksellers

Common Good Books in St. Paul
Aaron Rosenberg, a bookseller at Common Good Books in St. Paul, was one of four Minnesota booksellers chosen by James Patterson for his holiday bonus program.
Courtesy of Common Good Books | Gilbertson Photography

Bestselling author James Patterson is giving out holiday bonuses again this year, and four Minnesota booksellers are among the recipients.

Patterson is one of the highest-paid authors in history: According to Forbes, he pulled in $269 million last year alone from print, e-book and audiobook sales.

And for the second year in a row, he has personally chosen independent booksellers from around the country to receive bonuses — a recognition of the role booksellers play in the literary world.

The process was nomination-based, and Patterson sorted through notes from customers, publishers and others to pick 149 recipients. A total of $250,000 will be split among the booksellers, who will take home bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

"There's a running joke in bookselling," said Barbara Bassett, a bookseller at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul and one of this year's recipients. "You're not in this business for the money, but it's kind of nice to get it once in a while."

Bassett has been a bookseller for her entire adult life — nearly 40 years. She got her start at a now-shuttered B. Dalton in Fargo, N.D., and has been at the Red Balloon, a children's bookstore, for almost two decades.

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"I love putting books in people's hands and knowing they'll enjoy it," Bassett said.

Just a mile down the road from the Red Balloon is another bookseller on the bonus list: Aaron Rosenberg at Common Good Books.

Rosenberg got the news in an email — which landed in his spam folder.

"How many emails saying you won money are legit?" Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg just hit the two-decade mark as a bookseller; it's his first year at Common Good, but he spent nearly ten years at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis before that.

"It is nice to be recognized for helping people find books to enjoy," Rosenberg said.

At the other end of the spectrum is a very new Minnesota bookseller on the bonus list: Jessica Peterson White. She and her husband opened Content in Northfield just two years ago.

White didn't plan on becoming a bookseller, but when the small town's previous bookstore, Monkey See, Monkey Read, was put up for sale in 2014, she was worried it might close. Instead, she and her husband bought it. They renamed the store and moved it down the block, carrying boxes of books right through a snowstorm.

"The first two years have been amazing," White said. "It's exciting for folks who work hard in bookstores that a really successful author is giving back to the bookselling community."

Though Amazon and online shopping have undoubtedly put a dent in the indie bookstore market in the past decade, White said she's seeing a resurgence.

"People are coming to realize that talking to an actual human who can help you find just the right book to read is something no website algorithm is ever going to be able to reproduce," White said.

The fourth Minnesota recipient, Debra Larsson, works at Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior.

Bassett, of the Red Balloon, isn't sure yet how she'll spend her bonus — but she knows it won't go toward any more books, if she can help it.

"I have no room," she said. "I have too many bookcases as it is. A one-bedroom apartment should not have nine bookcases."