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Stephen L. Carter

Don't Blame Amazon For Dumbing Down Literature

Shrewd booksellers have always given readers what they want.
But are they worth reading?

But are they worth reading?

Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

You might never have heard of Charles Edward Mudie, but in the middle of the 19th century he was the largest buyer of books in the world. Mudie, a British publisher and proprietor of a hugely successful for-profit lending library, was so powerful that his fellow publishers hesitated to sign writers whose works he refused to carry. He was feared by working novelists, many of whom rewrote portions of their books to avoid his censure.

The story of Mudie comes to mind in the wake of the contretemps over the anti-Amazon lament recently posted at Book View Café by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the most prominent science fiction writers in the history of the genre. Her gender-challenging masterpiece "The Left Hand of Darkness," published in 1969, should rank among the greatest literary works of the 20th century. But now, according to Le Guin, Amazon's quest for short-term sales is destroying serious literature.