Archive for Current Events

Jimmy Pointing at Things: The Latest in a Continuing Series

If someone points a camera at me, I will reflexively point at something else. 

Every time. 

Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.

Here I am celebrating a “masked” outdoor children’s book festival in Chappaqua, NY. Despite the safety precautions — or more correctly, because of the safety precautions — it felt like a victory for community, for literacy, for normalcy. 

Nice to spend the day surrounded by book people.

News Item: $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, Rising Death Toll, and UPSTANDER

Opioid deaths up almost 30% this past year — maybe at a time many of us were looking in the other direction. There’s a lot of blood & heartbreak on the hands of these criminal profiteers (see settlement news, below). 

I hoped to portray the humanity of this issue in my new book, UPSTANDER, where 13-year-old Mary O’Malley’s older brother struggles with Substance Use Issues (SUD). 

Right now, this feels like a neglected issue, filled with misinformation, prejudice, and shame. We need to do better. It begins with greater awareness and compassion.

From Reuters, by Nate Raymond . . .

 

 

 

U.S. states to unveil $26 billion opioid settlement with drug distributors, J&J 

A Johnson & Johnson building is shown in Irvine, California, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A Johnson & Johnson building is shown in Irvine, California, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

July 19 (Reuters) – U.S. state attorneys general are expected this week to unveil a $26 billion settlement resolving claims that three major drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson helped fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Distributors McKesson Corp (MCK.N), Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N) and AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N) would pay a combined $21 billion, while Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) would pay $5 billion. New York on Tuesday is expected to announce the distributors have agreed to a $1 billion-plus settlement with the state, a source said.

The ultimate settlement pricetag could fluctuate depending on the number of states and political subdivisions that agree to the deal or reject it and pursue litigation on their own in hopes of a bigger payout down the line.

More than 40 states are expected to support the nationwide settlement, two sources said. States will have 30 days to decide whether to join the global accord then more time to try to convince their cities and counties to participate in the deal, the sources said.

McKesson has previously said that of the $21 billion the three distributors would pay over 18 years, more than 90% would be used to remediate the opioid crisis while the rest, about $2 billion, would be used to pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs.

Several states have passed laws or reached agreements with their political subdivisions to govern how settlement proceeds would be allocated in the event of a nationwide settlement.

The financial terms are in line with prior disclosures by the three distributors and J&J about what they expected to have to pay following long-running settlement talks.

“There continues to be progress toward finalizing this agreement and we remain committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for families and communities in need,” J&J said in a statement.

McKesson and Cardinal Health had no comment while AmerisourceBergen said it does not comment on “rumor and speculation.” They have all previously denied wrongdoing.

Nearly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The opioid crisis appeared to worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC last week said provisional data showed that 2020 was a record year for drug overdose deaths with 93,331, up 29% from a year earlier. Opioids were involved in 74.7%, or 69,710, of those overdose deaths.

The distributors were accused of lax controls that allowed massive amounts of addictive painkillers to be diverted into illegal channels, devastating communities, while J&J was accused of downplaying the addiction risk.

Governments have said the money will be used to fund addiction treatment, family support programs, education and other health initiatives to address the crisis. 

Dick Robinson, Chairman, President, and CEO of Scholastic (1937-2021): A Few Memories from the Wayback

I felt a pang when I learned of the passing of Dick Robinson, chairman, president, and CEO of Scholastic. Part of that was nostalgia for a long ago time in my life, but also that I had interacted with him, saw him in the halls and elevators, and respected him.

After a hazy period of cutting lawns and waiting tables, I got my first real job after college in 1985 at Scholastic, Inc., on 730 Broadway, two blocks east from Washington Square Park. I was hired as a junior copywriter to write the SeeSaw Book Club. I was also assigned the role of copywriter for the Text Division, run by Eleanor Angeles and Loretta Marion. I wrote the bulk of their catalog copy, plus ads and direct mail packages.

As it happened, it was a tradition for Dick Robinson to write an intro letter on the inside cover of the main catalogs. Only he didn’t write the letters. He rewrote them.

I was elected to be the guy — a young whelp earning a cool $11,500 a year — who would write Dick Robinson’s letters. I’d navigate the long hallway to his office on the 10th floor for a brief discussion. Just the two of us. I wasn’t nervous; curiously, he seemed more nervous than me. Dick Robinson wasn’t an easy conversationalist, nor did he possess a breezy charm. But he was always kind, authentic, never intimidating. There was nothing to be nervous about. We’d talk a bit — he had a deep love for the Magazines Division, and Scope texts, which his father pioneered, and the company’s overarching mission — and I’d go off and try to write something that wasn’t too terrible.

The next day I’d drop a couple of not-altogether-awful, double-spaced pages into his mailbox.

Then he’d rewrite the crap out it.

But he was decent about it, always with a smile, his pen moving across the pages, crossing out sentences, tweaking phrases, inserting a new introduction, gently cutting my work to ribbons. 

For my first few years with Scholastic — and this became a regular joke with my pals Holly Kowitt and Craig Walker — whenever I’d see him in the elevator he’d turn to me and say, “Hello, Jim. Writing lots of copy?”

I always assured him that I was.

Reams of it.

Out the wazoo.

So I got to know the man in that peculiar fashion. Not as the decision-maker at the head of the table. I wasn’t privy to that side of his business acumen. I only met the gentle, halting, vaguely ill-at-ease man who walked the halls like an avuncular school principal. He knew everyone’s name and, mnemonically, I believe, remembered what we did.

In my case, I imagine that his interior Rolodex read: Jimmy Preller, writes copy.

I remember overseeing a poster that showed a map of the world. It was another project for the Text Division. There was some copy in a sidebar and the poster was used as a promotional giveaway for a new Social Studies textbook. Unfortunately there was a typo in it and Dick was the one — of all people! — who found it. Turns out we spelled hungry wrong. The country. Ugh. (It’s Hungary, grrrr.) So that sucked. Dick wasn’t mean about it, he never raised his voice, but I felt bad and he wanted me to feel bad, too. I still do feel embarrassed by it, that dopey mistake.

I let the old man down.

Not long before I arrived at Scholastic, in 1985, there had been a tough profile on Dick in The New York Times Business Section. Scholastic struggled in the early 80s. There were missteps and miscalculations and significant losses. The company went all-in on computing a little too soon, and ineffectually. The Times article, as I recall, brutally summed it up as: He took over his father’s company and flushed it down the drain.

It was rough stuff.

I think about how that article must have devastated him. A knife to the heart. Public humiliation from the old Gray Lady, the voice of record, The New York Times. And what did Dick Robinson do? He quietly persevered. He made some great hires. He brought in Dick Krinsley, who in turn hired Barbara Marcus (my first boss), and Jean Feiwel, a dynamic combination, to take over Book Group. He leaned more heavily on Ed Monagle and Dick Spaulding. I’m sure there were other people that I’ve failed to mention who played instrumental roles. Together, that small, tight, smart group helped turn the company’s fortunes around.

Dick Robinson, justly protective of his family’s legacy, built a business that would have made any father proud.

He did good.

 

 

 

A Guided Tour of Delmar’s Little Free Libraries

Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if somebody could make a map of my town’s Little Free Libraries?

After all, we love ’em, right?

I see them here and there in a random, disorganized way. Where are they exactly? And how many are there?

So I did a little crowdsourcing — and internet sleuthing — and came up with a starter list. I doubt that it’s complete. And one could certainly make the argument that such a list should include other nearby, closely connected neighborhoods of Bethlehem proper.

But I’m happy to just start the ball rolling. If you know of another neighborhood LFL that I’ve missed, please let me know and I’ll include it here in what could ultimately become a Master List.

As for that nifty map? Sorry, I don’t have those cartography skills. Truth is, I hardly have any skills at all!

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED

For the tour, I grabbed a bunch of books that were around the house, since the concept of a LFL is to “Take a Book, Leave a Book.” Because we recently had a “bear scare” in our little town, I figured that young readers might be primed for Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Bear Scare. Besides, I had a pile of ’em doing nothing in a closet.

 

ADDENDUM NOTE (6/18/21): I’ve updated this list with 4 more LFLs, addresses at the bottom of the tour. 

14 PARTRIDGE ROAD

         

A lovely beginning. This LFL contained almost exclusively adult titles. Neat and tidy. As our tour proceeds, I’ll refrain from rating individual libraries. I imagine that the quality of the books ebb and flow, according to usage, though I am convinced that the best LFLs are actively curated. Some old titles are better tossed in the trash, especially if no one grabs one after a period of time.

9 CATHERINE STREET

         

Gorgeous — I wish my house looked this good. And during my visit, this fine libary featured almost exclusively children’s books! Perfection.

101 ADAMS PLACE

         

There’s a fun hit-and-miss quality to visiting a LFL, not unlike stopping at a garage sale or thrift shop. Sometimes you hit gold, other times you decide to check back another day. Regardless, I’m always happy to leave a book — and grateful to the owners for sharing these libraries with our community.

160 ADAMS PLACE

         

A surprisingly high percentage of these people are my friends. Maybe not that surprising, since I’m drawn to book people and, of course, these LFLs are in my purview. Here’s an example of the odd kind of book you can find. Nothing I’d ever search for, or even think I’d like, but interesting. I didn’t take it home — but I almost did.

107 ELSMERE AVENUE

This is on the corner of Elsmere and Norge. I drive past it all the time. The trick is to turn on Norge, climb out of the automobile, and take a look. Or, better yet, walk or take a bike. Worth a stop.

25 LINDA COURT

         

We don’t play favorites here at James Preller Dot Com. But this is the sweetest LFL I came across on the tour. Good vibes abound, you can sense a child’s touch. Also, a different approach in the construction. It looks . . . portable!

18 WOODRIDGE ROAD

         

Beautifully constructed and curated with a nice balance of children’s and adult’s, literary and popular. Big bonus for the tasteful peace sign attached to the side. Just the right touch. Book people are the best people.

24 TIERNEY DRIVE

         

Must have been my lucky day, because I coveted quite a few titles in this LFL. Excellent balance of children’s books on the top shelf, literary fiction for adults in the main section. I was tempted to saw it off at the base and carry it home. But that would have been wrong. Right?

1 JUNIPER DRIVE

.       

An interesting location, in front of Adams Station Apartments. The books here were, on this day, very much the type that are consumed by avid readers. My money says this is a much-frequented LFL.

RAIL TRAIL, ADAMS STREET. & HUDSON AVENUE

         

I don’t know who takes care of this LFL — but what an awesome location. Next time you go for a walk on the Rail Trail, or a jog, bring a gently used (and enjoyed) book that’s sitting around your home. Trade it in for something new.

311 KENWOOD AVENUE

Fancy lighting, don’t you think? This one is super close to the middle school, sure to get a lot of readers passing by. If you’ve good books for grades 6-8 readers, this is the place where you could donate a few.

51 FAIRWAY AVENUE

This is the last stop on our tour, 12 Little Free Libraries in all. This one has no window, no sign — but don’t let that fool you. It’s yet another LFL, sharing books with anyone who stops by, complete with a nearby bench where weary travelers can read, rest, and reflect. The owners will even let you jump in their pool. Well, maybe you ought to ask first.

 

THUS ENDS THE TOUR . . . 12 LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES IN ALL . . .

BUT MOSTLY, ALL I REALLY WANT TO SAY IS . . . 

THANK YOU!

 

OWNERS, CARETAKERS, NEIGHBORS, READERS,

FOR PROMOTING LITERACY IN OUR COMMUNITY,

FOR BRINGING BOOKS FRONT AND CENTER,

FOR SHARING THE LOVE OF READING,

FOR DOING ONE SMALL THING 

TO MAKE OUR TOWN A LITTLE BIT BETTER. 

 

ADDENDUM, UPDATE!

I’ve learned of four more local Little Free Libraries at the following locations: 

93 Winnie Street

12 Plymouth Avenue

192 Adams Street

Rail Trail II: A big one on the Trail at the main parking lot off Kenwood, near MegN’s and the New Village Deli.

 

POSTSCRIPT I

 

 

Here’s the result of my haul that day. I guess I have some reading to do. And when I’m done, I’ll pass the books along to a LFL near you.

 

POSTSCRIPT II

         

 

Our neighborhood had a black bear (or two!) visit the area recently. The above photo was posted by a resident. Yes, bears love birdseed and compost heaps. Events like that inspired my book, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Bear Scare, which is the title I stuck in every neighborhood Little Free Library. Watch out for those clues! The bear scat is highly suspicious . . . 

Lois Ehlert, Remembered (1934-2021): A Tribute

“I’m trying to use my art
to teach a little — making children
a little more appreciative
of the flowers they can see,
or helping to open up their eyes
to the beautiful birds
flying overhead.”

— Lois Ehlert

 

I learned today that Lois Ehlert has passed away. Born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, on November 9, 1934, Lois went on to do great things as an author and illustrator of children’s books.

I had the privilege of interviewing Lois for a book almost 30 years ago. The interview was updated at a later point, around 2000, for the cleverly titled, The Big Book of Picture-Book Authors & Illustrators. I used to spy that book on the shelves in classrooms during school visits, though I suspect that’s hardly true anymore. Are teachers as interested in children’s books as they used to be? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, here’s the two-page spread on Lois as it appeared in that collection of profiles. The writing is directed at dual audiences: educators as well as interested young readers. 

As a writer, it’s often a little scary to go back and look at old writing. Will it be embarrassingly bad? But in this case, I felt none of that. I was simply heartened to remember Lois Ehlert again, to bring those great books back to mind, and appreciate the fine work she did.

May her wonderful books, full of color and beauty and respect for the natural world, live on.

 

 

(Sorry for the crummy photos; it’s how I roll.)