Okay, first off, Sherman Alexie has produced some wonderful novels and poetry, a lot of which I’ve enjoyed. So this is not about his talent or his place in the literary canon.
In addition, just like the rest of us, he is entitled to his opinions about stuff. So, I got no problem with him having a dog in the fight over technology and digital rights.
But goddamn it, he’s been pissing me with his ongoing rants about how e-books and Kindles are going to…going to… well, just wait! They’re going to do a LOT of things, a lot of BAD things, like for example: lead to illiteracy, widen the digital divide, increase digital piracy, wrest control of content from authors, bring about the downfall of book sellers and booksmellers alike. Also, they might — hell, they probablywill— hurt puppies. And somehow, the government might use your Kindle to get all up in your business. And Sherman Alexie is unhappy about this and wants to save us, even if we don’t want to be saved. Also, he is an Indian, so he’s right about this shit.
At a panel of authors speaking mainly to independent booksellers, Sherman Alexie, theNational Book Award-winning
author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” said he
refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He
called the expensive reading devices “elitist” and declared that when
he saw a woman sitting on the plane with aKindle on his flight to New York, “I wanted to hit her.”
Yeah, he said that. As I see it, that quote is very telling. Even though he’s not “anti-technology” and “loves his iPod,” Alexie gets emotional about e-books. He is afraid of the changes they signal, he doesn’t like that they take away his supposed control of his work, and he thinks we should be “mourning” the loss of the immediacy and intimacy of actual storytelling. And that makes him want to hit things, like people.
So fine, if you want to be defensive and afraid and overwhelmed and sad and all elegiac-like, go on TV and let it all out. Oprah loves that shit. But don’t take all that, wrap it up in with a scattershot bunch of cherrypicked factoids, and pass it off as reason and truth.
I consider the Kindle elitist because it’s too expensive. I also consider
it elitist because, right now, one company is making all the rules. I
am also worried about Jeff Bezos’ comments about wanting to change the
way we read books. That’s rather imperial. Having grown up poor, I’m
also highly aware that there’s always a massive technology gap between
rich and poor kids. I haven’t yet heard what Amazon plans to do about
this potential technology gap. And that’s a vital question considering
that Bezos wants to change the way we read books. How does he plan to
change the way that poor kids read books? How does he plan to make sure
that poor kids have access to the technology? Poor kids all over the
country don’t have access to current textbooks, so will they have
access to Kindle?
Pretty much about the same time as the advent of the first digital book, educators and producers of assistive technologies have been figuring out how best to usee-books and devices in schools. In addition, there are a lots ofFREE online ebook libraries, and for that matter, has Mr. Alexie been to a public library recently? They have computers and the internet machine there now you know, and a number of brick and mortar libraries areloaning outKindles (and other ebook readers), withAmazon’s legal blessing. Libraries can “de-register” the machines so borrowers can’t use them purchase books on the taxpayer dime.
I’m not saying the transition to e-books is seamless or even that there is agreement about it, or that Alexie is wrong to be concerned about real threats, but a great deal of discussion, online and off, regarding the topic focuses on the potential of the technology for democratizing access, much like movable type did in the 17th century, rather than limiting it. I find it hard to believe Alexie isn’t aware of this.
I am not some kind of Kindle champion. Hell I don’t even own, or particularly want, one. It just pisses me off when talented people whose work I admire, like Sherman Alexie, act stupid and unaware of just how self-contradictory they sound. Like he did last night on Colbert:
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