Censorship and the future of e-readers

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 18, 2020

A Kindle, or any comparable e-reader, can be a great convenience. If you’re packing for a vacation trip (which you probably aren’t doing this year, but that’s another story), it’s nice to know that you can bring along all of Shakespeare, all of Trollope, a few dozen mysteries, and the Summa, without making your suitcase any heavier.

But there’s a disadvantage to Kindle. And I don’t mean only the pleasure of handling a physical book, or the ability to flip back and forth easily through the pages. I mean the fact that you can buy a Kindle book, but you still don’t own that book. You can’t lend the book to a neighbor, or pass it along to a child. You don’t have physical possession. Amazon does.

That distinction becomes more important when you hear suggestions that the works of Flannery O’Connor should be censored because of her politically incorrect attitudes. And Mark Twain. And T.S. Eliot. And Kingsley Amis. And David Mamet. And maybe even Ray Bradbury, since censors are not sensitive to irony. Suppose, at some future date, the panjandrums of public opinion decide that these books should no longer be available. With a few keystrokes, Amazon (or its competitors) can make that happen. The next time you log on, you notice that those books— the books you paid for— no longer exist.

If there is anything about the recent behavior of large tech companies that gives you confidence this could never happen, please let me know.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: garedawg - Jul. 05, 2020 7:59 PM ET USA

    Fortunately many of the great classics are off copyright and in the public domain.

  • Posted by: Scribbly - Jun. 23, 2020 11:00 PM ET USA

    All the better to manage your own eBook library on your PC and read on a device. Not that I have a Kindle, but I'd think Amazon would make that difficult, as even trying to download an Amazon eBook to my library ended in frustration and failure (and many other 'f' words, like: fainting with fatigue)

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Jun. 20, 2020 11:28 AM ET USA

    The other day I wanted to read a bit more of God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis that I'd bought on Kindle a while back. It was missing from my book list along with a couple other titles. Attempts to recover it were futile. Thanks for solving that mystery even tho it's scary to realize what happened. I will take the advice of Dlukenbill.

  • Posted by: Dlukenbill2151 - Jun. 18, 2020 3:52 PM ET USA

    Kindles are great, but, for many reasons, including the one you note, I always buy a hard copy of the keeper books, only using Kindle for read once and done.