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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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Helping books find a home for the cause

As most of you know, I’ve been a Relay for Life team captain for more than 15 years, raising money for the American Cancer Society. For several years, my team has organized a used-book sale at Leclaire Parkfest, a local festival celebrating the history and culture of this little village (which was swallowed up by Edwardsville sometime in the 1930s, I think?) 

It’s not a small undertaking. The books are set aside all year long by the volunteers at the St. Andrew’s Book Sale, which has about 20,000 volumes offered in a quarterly sale. For Parkfest, we have to load all the books into trucks and vans, haul them to the Park, set up at least a dozen tables and set out all the books. Then at the end of the festival, we pack up the remaining books to donate to other nonprofits.

This year books went to the Head Start program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, to SIUE Phi Kappa Phi to distribute to area Little Free Libraries, and to Metro East Literacy Project. The volunteers came from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Phi Kappa Phi and SIUE Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society foolish enough to elect me as president this year.

We had a fabulous time, and our volunteers were awesome. Want to know how awesome? Some of the books left over last year had been stored in a church member’s barn, and when we were unloading, we discovered that several of them had brought unexpected visitors. To be more specific, we opened a bin and a mouse jumped out onto a volunteer’s arm!

We have since dubbed Olivia “The Disney Princess of Sigma Tau Delta,” as clearly she can charm the wildlife.

The mice apartments, as we started calling them, were taken to a nearby wood and set free by the students. The damaged books had to be thrown away, of course, and I supposed I’m going to have to get used to sacrificing books when I take over running the St. Andrew’s sale next year. But my philosophy has always been, every book should find a good home – and we did that this year, with all but two boxes of books sold or given away to literacy causes that will make good use of them in our ongoing efforts to celebrate the written word.

The gross total for the sale was $946 for the American Cancer Society, which was actually higher than I anticipated while not quite meeting the amount last year. It will be reduced a little by expenses, but not many; now that we have Frodo the Bookmobile, we don’t have to rent U-Hauls anymore for hauling large quantities of books.

A million thanks go to our terrific volunteers, who didn’t just endure the mice and keep hauling books. They stayed, they came back to pack up, they hauled tables back to the church, and three of them even followed us all the way to O’Fallon, Ill. to deliver the last of the books to Metro East Literacy.

Here’s a few pics from Leclaire Parkfest, with my thanks to everyone involved. It’s a great start toward our fundraising for 2023, and I’m happy so many books found a home.

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