At a panel of authors speaking mainly to independent booksellers, Sherman Alexie, the National 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 a Kindle on his flight to New York, “I wanted to hit her.” (Motoko Rich, NY Times)
I have to be honest, I’m appalled at his statement. Sure, you can call the Kindle “elitist”. It might be, but I think the iPod and the idea of laptops for everyone in the household are too. Or maybe I should also feel bad that the house I live in has running water when my mother grew up walking to a community well every day. Now I’m glad he clarified some of his ideas, because I suppose his greatest concern is that the literacy/educational gap will widen even further. But can we really place that burden on Jeff Bezos? One man? I know we as a society feel like we can call upon political and business leaders to correct all of the world’s problems, but I feel like this is a tall order for one company. I’m not saying that I condone the lack of corporate social responsibility, but I also don’t believe in forcing businesses to suffer losses on purpose or to act counter to their self-interest. And does Alexie have a plan for Amazon to singlehandedly fix the problem of illiteracy among the lower classes and in developing nations? It sounds like he faults Bezos for trying to innovate without handing out coupons to everyone who can’t afford innovation immediately.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always been a champion of the impoverished. I, like Alexie, come from an impoverished background, from a largely agrarian country where 45% of the population lives on under $2 a day (UNDP). And coming to America, my father gave up his career to work minimum wage in food retail. I remember wearing hand-me-downs (and worse, I only had older brothers!) and getting “reduced-price” lunches at school. But the idea that Bezos is at fault for not taking care of the entire world is ludicrous.
“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?”
Of course I think it’s horrible and cause for action that illiteracy and access to education is a world-wide and even U.S. concern. But I certainly don’t expect one business to suffer losses just because no one else wants to shoulder the burden.
P.S. “I wanted to hit her.” Does he really hate a person for owning a Kindle? Is that how he judges people? He wants to cause physical harm to a person for what she owns? Let’s fight evil corporations for not solving all the world’s problems, but let’s also speak words of violence towards others for having material possessions! I’m absolutely offended by that statement.
Edited to Add: When Kevin read this post, he was more than mildly incensed. It warranted a post of his own. (Warning: If you’re on Alexie’s side on this, you won’t like Kevin’s post either.)