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 Amazon.com, 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