Behind the Sound Bite: More from Alexie on the Kindle

One of the incendiary comments (maybe the only one) from BookExpo this year was Sherman Alexie's remark on an author panel that when he saw a woman on his plane reading a Kindle he "wanted to hit her." (He said the "expensive reading devices" (the Times' words) were "elitist" (his word), and he hasn't yet let his books be digitized.) Fair enough (though those metal-backed devices might double pretty well as a weapon if the Kindle reader wanted to fight back)--we Seattleites know our neighbor Alexie as a heartfelt, shoot-from-the-hip advocate for what he loves (e.g. the former SuperSonics) and hates.

On his own site, Alexie has posted a note about the responses he's gotten to the quote:

In the aftermath of my recent public comments about my fear and loathing of Kindle and its kind, I have received a few dozen amazing, passionate, and compelling emails about the power and beauty of electronic books (and many more hilarious ones questioning my sanity, my morality, my anger management ability, and my writing skills). I have been especially humbled by those Kindle readers who, because of various physical issues, can only read with the machines. While I still have serious qualms about the technology, I have been challenged and emotionally moved enough to take a long-requested meeting with the folks at Amazon and Kindle and listen to their arguments for the machines. I'm on Amazon's list of most-requested authors whose fiction is not available electronically, so now, thanks to the beautiful emails I received, I will do my best to enter the meeting with an open mind. And I definitely promise that I will not beat up anybody at Amazon or Kindle.

And following comments by Kassia Kroszer, among others, Edward Champion (no stranger to rhetorical pugilism himself) took the initiative to ask Alexie to expand on his sound bite, and the result was a more nuanced and surprising exchange (Alexie "loves" both his iPod and, for one thing, but ebooks still cause a visceral reaction):

People are eager to portray me as being anti-technology, but that’s not the case at all. I think the iPod is as vital as the fork and wheel. So I’m not even sure why I have this strange, subterranean fear and loathing of the Kindle and its kind. I think it’s really about childhood. Books saved my life, Edward. I rose out of poverty and incredible social dysfunction because of books. And all of my senses-sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste-come into play when I think and read about books. Books are tactile and eccentric. An eBook will always be a gorgeous but anonymous box.

Would that I could sit in on that Alexie-Kindle meeting... --Tom

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Comments (6)

Thanks for your information... :)

Posted by: unisa81 | Tuesday June 2, 2009 at 9:42 PM

I love books, too, but I also love my Kindle. When I traveled for business or pleasure I always packed a book-a-day. A ten day trip meant I was carrying a lot of weight in books -- now all I have to take is my Kindle!!

I also love being able to get more "books" in the middle of the night.

Posted by: Shana | Tuesday June 2, 2009 at 11:28 PM

well, Elitist indeed, if the books were not available in electronic form many of us would not be able to carry our substantial libraries when we travel (for work mostly) originaly the primary reason was to be able to lug around hundreds of manuals that would take all your luggage allowance on your plane, but we also need to be able to read our faborite novel or fiction or what have you, I find that when I travel and working I rather read a good book instead of watching TV, helps me sleep.
But that is my humble opinion.
Keep the Ebooks coming.

Posted by: Jerry Z | Wednesday June 3, 2009 at 3:07 AM


I am an avid reader. I go through quite a few a week. And, I HATE to part with my books (I shudder when people ask to borrow them). Now, I find my house has no room left and I sit and look at all of the trees that were killed on behalf of my "hobby".

I LOVE my Kindle, totally MISS books, but it is convenient (for example, I could only carry 1 "fat" book for my flight to Hong Kong (15-16 hours) and had nothing to read on the way back. The Kindle would have MORE than taken care of that problem. It is with me everywhere, so even when I have a 10-minute wait, it is put to great use (my handbag and shoulder thank me profusely for not carrying around volumes of reading material). It also helps now that I have arthritis in my hands -- makes it MUCH easier to hold my reading material.

So, I can totally sympathize with you with wanting to "feel" the books and "smell" the books, but with progress, in some cases, we are helping "Mother Earth"..(and my hands and wrists). I'm glad you are keeping an open mind. Look forward to seeing your novels on Kindle... (note: cookbooks will always and forever be in print form for me -- easier to copy and dirty one page than the book or

Posted by: Joanne McDonough | Wednesday June 3, 2009 at 12:55 PM

Face, Summer of Black Widows, One Stick Song, The Business of Fancydancing, First Indian on the Moon are ALL by Sherman Alexie, and are ALL avaiable currently at Amazon as KINDLE EDITIONS. Maybe that poor woman on the airplane that he wanted to hit was reading one of his books. Maybe she should have hit him.

Posted by: LASoundCrafter | Thursday June 4, 2009 at 12:10 PM

I've come to terms with the Kindle and other e-readers. I believe they can exist alongside, and supplement, traditional books ... which will always be with us.

Posted by: Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books | Friday June 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM

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