As book bans surge like wildfire in parts of the US notably Texas and Florida Publishers Weekly has nominated two independent booksellers who have been instrumental in leading the fight against such actions as its People of the Year 2023.
The accolade goes to Valerie Koehler (right), owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, and Charley Rejsek, CEO of Book People in Austin. The pair took a stand against the state of Texas HB 900 ruling that, if passed, will instruct booksellers to rate both new books and backlist for sexual content without any coherent guidelines for doing so.
Rejsek told the magazine: HB 900 isnt just an attack on books, its an attack on the people represented in those books, and my staff come from many of those communities. For them, the fight against HB 900 is personal. And we are all fighting this law together.
If the law stands, as of 1 April 2024, books rated sexually explicit (those with material that would be deemed patently offensive by unspecified community standards) would be banned entirely from Texas schools, while books rated sexually relevant (those with any representation of sexual conduct) would only be accessible to students with written parental permission.
Koehler says: Our job is to sell, not rate, books. The hours, the payroll that it would require for us to review and rate every book we sell, and then do it retroactively for the all the books weve ever sold is just absurd. It could break us.
According to the ALAs Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of titles challenged in 2023 jumped 20% over 2022. In September, PEN America reported a 33% increase in book bans in schools over the previous year. If this doesnt go well for us in Texas, it could have dire consequences for everyone, Koehler says.