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Archive for June 10th, 2009:

Sherman Alexie in Battle with Digital Books

posted June 10, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in books publishing

A long time ago I saw Sherman Alexie at a reading in Spokane, Washington. Still in his twenties, Alexie arrived late. He stumbled to the podium, pretending, I think, to be drunk, and mumbled insults at the audience. As I remember, he left shortly afterward without reading a thing. Alexie was new on the scene, but his gift as a writer was already matched by a dramatic, provocative presence that got people’s attention.

A book worth reading, published by Grove Press. Click for more information.

A book worth reading, published by Grove Press. Click for more information.

I thought of this event recently when I was reading a New York Times article on BookExpo America. There was Sherman Alexie, now a famous writer, quoted about ebooks. On his plane going to the convention, he saw a woman reading a Kindle. According to article, Alexie, who thinks Kindles are elitist, “wanted to hit” the woman.

I doubt Alexie really wants to hit anyone, but like many literary people, he hates and fears digital books. For authors the fear is understandable. Ebooks are potentially threatening. But this antidigital urge seems to be part of a broader trend, another act in the man versus machine drama. An earlier scene occurred in 1987, when Wendell Berry wrote a piece in Harper’s describing his disdain for computers. Although compelling, the essay was widely criticized, especially for being sexist. Instead of using a computer, Berry said in the essay, he asked his wife to type his work.

Alexie, too, received mixed reviews from his comments. To his credit, Alexie on his website wrote about the many people who sent him e-mails supporting ebooks. Some, because of physical ailments, couldn’t read without the Kindle or similar machines. Alexie, who said he has not allowed his books to be available digitally, announced he would be meeting with “folks at Amazon and Kindle” and promised not to “beat up anybody” there.

Here, in another context, is Alexie in a provocative duel.