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BookNotes: Don’t say race

PEN America is fighting against six pending pieces of legislation that will seriously curtail free speech on college campuses. Florida – oh Florida, why is it always you? – isn’t satisfied with “don’t say gay.” Now they’re saying teacher education programs can’t teach college students anything related to racism or identity politics, which of course is not defined, as well as stripping financial aid from students saying unpopular things on campus. Iowa is doing the same, while Oklahoma has stripped out any class that teaches them about race. Utah and Indiana are fighting DEI, which last I looked was comprised of efforts to promote tolerance and fight racism, you know, subversive stuff like that. Check out the complete rundown here.

Speaking of Florida, Miami-Dade schools required a permission slip for students to hear a book written by a Black author, because their new laws are so vague and dogwhistley (a word I just made up) that it appeared to be necessary. Of course, we don’t need permission slips to hear books by white authors. That would be known as “the rest of the curriculum.” Check it out here.

• Washington Post’s book critic, Ron Charles, dug into a new form of larceny in book publishing this week. I can’t link because it was in his weekly newsletter, which I strongly recommend. In short: jerkoffs are repackaging books and posting them with pseudonyms similar to the actual author’s name. In this example, music historian Ted Gioia wrote a book titled The History of Jazz for Oxford University Press. Some yahoothen posted The Evolution of Jazz by a Frank Gioia, co-written by “Ted Alkyer.” No such historian, but there is a jazz expert named Frank Alkyer. The “publisher” of this mess is Leon Lanen, which has 90 books on OverDrive and is presumably raking in the dough. Apparently the text is not similar enough to qualify as plagiarism, but “has the uncanny valley feel of a book report written by an earnest teenage robot,” according to Charles. You too can program an AI to fake a book! 

Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, tells Charles that the number of pirated and scam books stealing names as well as text is “staggering and definitely cuts into authors’ incomes.” Therefore my fury at the panelist who insisted we should all just dive in and start using the Plagiarism Machine last week has now doubled. In related news, Sarah Silverman, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Christopher Goden and Richard Kadrey have filed suit alleging their books have been used to train ChatGPT without permission. It’s not going well.

• Fallout continues with resignations and censures in the wake of the Hugo Awards controversy, in which several authors were inexplicably disqualified and still no explanation has been given, even a bullshit one. Publishers Weekly has the update.

Librarians are fighting back against the protesters and hate, standing firm in favor of the freedom to read and support for LGBTQ readers. They’ve been doxxed, threatened, their families threatened, accused of “grooming.” In one Tennessee town absolutely in an uproar about Gender Queer, there’s a history: in 1958 the local high school was integrated by court order, and someone planted 100 sticks of dynamite and reduced the high school to rubble. An Iowa library barely survived a vote in November to dismantle it over one book. And an Idaho Librarian was called a groomer for *checks notes* accepting an award from the American Library Association.

• Check out LeVar Burton standing up – as he does – and going after book burning with Reading Rainbow kids.

• Right in my backyard, a candidate for state office in ye olde Missouri decided the best way to elevate her campaign is to set library books on fire

The state of Alabama has withdrawn from the American Library Association. Too woke.

The news is too depressing this week! Let’s end with a meme.

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