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BookNotes: AI and book banning, once again.

This week’s roundup in book news is pretty much all AI and book banning, but we do have some fun stuff first:

• A postdoc teaching associate at Northwestern University believes he has found about 20 stories and poems he believes were authored by Louisa May Alcott, previously unknown. They were ghost stories and even some spicy stories, which maybe we can finally use to put a pin in the idea that speculative fiction and genre fiction can’t be literary? Please? 

• Angel City Press is an independent press focused on Los Angeles cultural history, and the owners recently announced their retirement. So the Los Angeles Public Library bought the press, and they will be the third public library in the country to own their own publishing house (following the Library Congress and the New York Public Library.) 

• Shocking precisely no one, AI-generated book rewrites are flooding Amazon. Pirates are stealing new, in-copyright books, making AI “rewrite” them and popping them back up on Amazon. Sometimes they call them “summaries” of the books they’re stealing; others simply pass themselves off as the real thing. Wired did a full write-up on this.. Amazon, by the way, has instituted a rule that no author can upload more than three books per day to the site. That’ll do it!

• This week in book banning: A Florida school district has decided the new DeSantis law policing books with “sexual conduct” means they have to remove 673 books, including the dictionary. Here’s a commentary on it from Vanity Fair and the straight news article. Also on the naughty list: John Grisham, John Steinbeck, John Irving, other writers not named John, Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Beloved, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Catch-22, and ironically Brave New World. By the way, teachers are no longer allowed to even call students by their preferred nickname because •gasp• it might be a trans name! In one county alone – Escambia County – more than 2,800 books have been removed from circulation. I wonder if Fahrenheit 451 is on the list again?

Meanwhile, lawsuits challenging book bans in Florida and Iowa are moving forward. In Florida, Penguin Random House has joined with PEN America among others to sue Escambia County School Board on the constitutionality of the book bans. In addition to the obvious First Amendment issues, the suit alleges a 14th Amendment violation under the Equal Protection Clause, as the challenged books are disproportionately titles by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors. It’s hard to imagine in a country where a pending state bill actually defines the word “terrorist” as “person of Hispanic descent living in Oklahoma.”

In Texas, a federal appeals court blocked a law that would have required a ratings system from booksellers dealing with school libraries. And an investigation by the Texas Tribune found that in a district banning books about trans people, the superintendent called a meeting with the librarians and told them the county was very conservative and anyone with different political beliefs “better hide it.” This was his lead-in to tell them to remove any book about LGBTQ themes, even if they don’t describe sex. “There are two genders. There’s male, and there’s female,” he declared. This happened two years ago, but now the federal government is investigating under civil rights enforcement.

On the other side, Massachusetts has presented bills to ensure that books cannot be removed from schools or libraries due to personal or political beliefs; only library professionals decide how to curate the collection. Believe it or not, last week police actually raided a middle school without a warrant seeking a copy of the book Gender Queer. The superintendent apologized for allowing it, saying “I recognize that this was likely a targeted racist and homophobic attack on a colleague and teacher.” The teacher in question was an advisor for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. 

Book Riot has been exploring this issue in depth, because book banning is clearly not going to stop with schools, and as we’ve seen in Murfreesboro, Tenn., it won’t necessarily stop with books, either. The town passed “public decency” ordinances that outlawed LGBTQ people in town. They were quickly repealed when lawsuits were filed. 

Also, there’s an interesting commentary by Book Riot’s Kelly Jensen this week on trauma, book bans, and what it does to society when librarians are threatened and accused of grooming. She points out that librarians often cover the social services gaps in communities, and offers a resource guide for them.

Coming up next week: Authors Guild will hold a Zoom on school book bans and civil rights, which I plan to attend. 

Published inbooks/publishingnews

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