Sherman Alexie: Kindle is Still Meh

Sherman Alexie did some controversial soapboxing against e-readers earlier this year, calling the Kindle “elitist” because of its high pricepoint. At some point after these remarks, Amazon gifted him a Kindle. Well how about those fellas?

Advance Magazine asked him if his opinion of the Kindle changed at all now that he’s had one of his own to play with. Mind you, here’s a strong representative of the Print Purists (of whom I am one in many respects), people who are leery of e-readers because… well, ain’t nothing like a book in your hand. If Alexie can be converted I’m certain most of us can. Here’s what he had to say about his Kindle experience:

I have to say I’m still not impressed. I certainly understand the convenience of storing 1,500 books in a small device, and I definitely appreciate that these electronic readers make it easier for people with certain physical challenges. But I utterly fail to understand how somebody could let such a device become their primary method of reading.

Book reading is a tactile process—one can see, feel, smell, hear, and taste a book—but a digital reader is rather sterile. A friend of mine said, “Reading a digital book is like masturbating with a condom on.” Another friend said, “If you can’t read in the bathtub, what’s the point?”… Another friend said, “I like to measure my progress when I read. I like to see the pages being turned. I like to see that I’m getting near the end of a book. With the Kindle, it always feels like I’m on page one.” Of course another friend said, after playing with my Kindle for awhile, “This thing is awesome, you idiot. If you don’t want it, give it to me.”

Now, the “sterility” is an accurate naming of what bothers many of us about a Kindle—as if the digitization robs what we’re reading of personality. Can you imagine, though, a fifteenth-century yeoman bitching about the printing press because, although it makes books far more widely available, it lacks that special, personalized quality of the monk who wrote your book out by hand?

I don’t think we miss that anymore. Give it a few hundred years, give it maybe less, but I think we’ll get over the Kindle’s sterility, too.

Alexie went on to say that in the near future there will be a clear division between the kinds of books that are bought in each format: popular fiction will sell more ebooks, but literary fiction, however, will sell more print books. (But won’t that make print books elitist, Sherman?) This does make sense.

Because Kindle isn’t what I picture myself reading hearthside. At least for now. This Print Purist loves a heavy, utterly obselete hardcover pulled down from his quaint bookshelf.

But on a plane? On a train? There I can see the advantages of an e-reader, even if in spite of the differences Alexie’s friends have cited above. (And I have to say— “Friend” who made the masturbating observation has just earned 25 points.) There’s a reason we call them airport books. Patricia Cornwells and James Pattersons will have a grand old time on people’s Kindles and iPhones because those novels lend themselves to that on-the-go, wholly undemanding reading style. If I ever get an e-reader I’m filling it with my genre books, almost exclusively.

My favorite classics, though? The Dante, Shakepeare, Dickenson, Hawthorne, and Fitzgerald books are the ones I must, as Alexie describes, “see,” “feel,” “smell,” and “hear.”

But I don’t need to “taste” them. Sherman Alexie can “taste” them if he wants, I just won’t.


2 thoughts on “Sherman Alexie: Kindle is Still Meh

  1. I’m a total *Print Purist* on the extreme. I don’t see the point of kindle and its cousins, and every point Alexie and the friends made (‘cept the last one) are on target. I almost spilled my suicide reading the masturbation allegory, that was priceless!

    I gotta say, not even for a plane, train, etc will I trade my books for a kindle and that’s saying something because all I ever read are hardbacks. I don’t care how heavy, the feeling of a book cannot be replace for some silly gadget.

    I’ve never tasted a book BUT I’ve read some passages where something really disgusting was happening and the description was so vivid that I could swear I could taste it, ugh! maybe that’s what he meant.

  2. There’s no question I’m a print snob (to the point where it takes far more will power than I should honestly admit to not grab people fiddling with their Kindles and scream “Stop that! Don’t you understand? The magic, you’re killing the magic!” and then run straight into my padded cell), but I’ll admit I can see a purpose for these e-readers beyond even what Alexie describes.

    The most obvious thing that springs to mind is nonfiction books. Anyone who has ever sat down with a science or history book, for example, knows that the more complete tomes among these genres require forklifts and Sherpa crews to move from place to place. Carrying well over a thousand such books on something slightly bigger than an ipod sets me a tingle, and could inspire spontaneous flexing for the benefit of the uninformed as I walk down the street with my new superhuman power.

    Better yet, there’s the convenience of a search feature, which would make refinding obscure quotes and factoids a breeze, possibly even if you couldn’t remember exactly what book they came from. One click and you could scan your entire library.

    And those thoughts come just from a fool who reads for pleasure. Think of the changes in how students would interact with their textbooks if the dark forces operating college bookstores ever allowed such a thing to invade their domain.

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