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It's a puzzlement.

It's a puzzlement.

Since shortly after my first novel was published, I’ve received occasional emails from people who want me to send them free books because they are sick or disabled or their child is sick or disabled.  At first I always did so, thinking I must be some kind of monster not to send a sick kid a wheelchair a novel about Jews in early modern Europe.  Lately I’ve taken to ignoring these emails.  I always wonder if it’s just a scam.  Even if it’s not, I don’t understand the impulse to ask strangers for free things,.  Plus it’s not like I have a mail room or a personal assistant or anything.  It’s not like asking for a free book from, I don’t know, Levi Johnston or something.  He can just have one of his peeps take care of it for him.  I, as I may have mentioned, have to haul my ass over to the post office.  That’s not nothing.

In the last week I’ve received two pleading emails from a man who says he’s undergoing massive cancer surgery, has no money, and wants me to send him books.  Something about it doesn’t feel quite right.  Still, I can’t help but feel it would be crappy not to send this guy books on the off chance he is telling the truth.  But even if he is telling the truth, he’s still some stranger who is asking me to haul my ass over to the post office and mail him some of my stuff for free.  I’d welcome your opinions on this.  What’s my move?

One concern is that if I don’t send this man books, he may curse me like Alison Lohman is cursed in Drag Me to Hell, which I watched last night. Like everyone out there who owns a Y chromosome, I love Sam Raimi’s films, and this was a good one.  Raimi is a guy whose projects so often radiate the sheer exuberant joy of telling a basic story in broad, effective strokes.  So, if you are wondering if you should see this movie, then you should, but some spoilers are coming, so be warned.

Surely we can all agree that profit and individual gain cannot be principles upon which a decent society are to be based.  Let’s ask her.

Surely we can all agree that profit and individual gain cannot be principles upon which a decent society are to be based. Let’s ask her.

Drag Me to Hell is essentially a gussied up B horror movie, of the sort that Raimi obviously loves so well, but it is also very smart and thoughtful take on our current economic situation.  Lohman plays a bank loan officer to whom an elderly Roma woman begs for a third extension on her mortgage.  Lohman can either help this woman or she can prove to her manager she’s tough enough to make nasty decisions.  She’s hoping for a promotion, so she refuses to grant the extension, the old woman goes apeshit, curses Lohman, and supernatural mayhem ensues.  Good stuff.

But here’s the thing.  The film goes out of its way to show that Lohman has the choice between doing the right thing and advancing her career.  Throughout the rest of the film, Lohman insists that it wasn’t her decision – that she was doing what her boss told her to do or that she did not have a choice.  Interestingly, toward the end of the film, she has the opportunity to save herself by cursing someone else, even someone who has done her harm, and she can’t bring herself to do it.  In other words, she still sees herself as a basically decent person, and on some level she is a basically decent person.  At the same time, it’s very easy to make horrible decisions when there is money in the balance rather than morality.  Yes, it’s an entertaining horror movie, but it’s also an interesting a subtle meditation on the dehumanizing effects of capitalism.  Also, it’s got eyeballs flying around everywhere and goats being sacrificed.  Cool.

9 Responses to “”

  1. Eileen says:

    It doesn’t seem right to send out free books when you yourself have yet to get a free Kindle. I wonder why the library isn’t an option for the people who make these requests?

    David’s response. Yeah, I wonder that too. About the library. I still can’t tell if I’m being a selfish jerk, understandably cautious, or something else. Like a fantastic all around guy. That’s an option, isn’t it?

  2. Paul A N Battye says:

    This is a difficult one. I strongly believe in helping others and, it seems, like yourself, think that capitalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If I was in your position I’d probably send back a positive message of support. Books are easy enough to get hold of and whilst you can sleep well at night by thinking your book was the last thing this person read before they passed away you’re probably not the only writer they are doing this to.

    On your specific point about total strangers writing to you and wringing your hands about whether it is right to ignore them- my wife often gets upset about news stories that have someone in an unfortunate position or other. It might seem callous but I say that there is no point despairing over someone you’ll never meet. Every second of every day there is something bad happening, if we got upset everytime it did we’d never do anything else. Help shape the things you can influence, the people around you, in your community, and if you do come across someone who’s a stranger and needs your help, give them it, they are in front of you.

    I could elaborate more and this is a bit concise but keep writing. I love your books and my address for the free copies to be sent to is… only joking, enjoy life.

  3. The whole concept of Tikun Olam does not require self sacrifice to the point of giving all of one’s self away. Philanthropy usually comes about because someone has done well enough for themself to be able to give a little of their unneeded bounty to those in need. A free book may equate to a kind gesture, but $10 to a charity would likely have a wider impact. I agree with the message of positive support. Free drugs to those in need is one thing; giving your efforts away at the cost of, well, even more effort, can have, at best, only a limited impact. I’ve read your whole catalog. I once sent you an e-mail, and to my surprise, you replied. I copied it to Word and saved it. That was a fine gift. If I went broke tomorrow, I’d get your latest book from the library, or ask someone to buy it for me. I think a loyal reader would treasure a personal message as much as anything. Perhaps you’d feel better if you put up a general statement regarding requests for freebies and explained that the cost in terms of time and materials, multiplied by the sheer number of incoming requests, makes the whole concept somewhat cost prohibitive. Or not.

  4. gary kaplan says:

    I remember receiving an early copy of your newest book the day I returned home from having a massive spinal procedue at Baylor.
    Needless to say, I wrote and thanked you immediately, and if I recall, my terminlogy describing you was as a “mensch”.
    Check out the guys story as best you can,without prying or doing anything illegal. Send me his address, and I will return to him the mitzvah you bestowed on me with your incredibly wonderful writing!!!

  5. Andrea says:

    I think Jeffrey’s idea about a website statement is a good one is you don’t want to keep sending the books. But Gary’s story & offer is really touching (you have nice readers).

    If it gives you some pleasure to send out a book as a good deed – & you can let go of worry about being scammed – then go ahead. If not, put up a website statement about it (& maybe donate a bunch to places that need books for people who don’t have easy access to them. There – conscience eased.)

  6. Erin says:

    Ignore the cheapos. Some people will try anything. I agree with you that the idea of asking strangers for free things is just a bit, well, strange.

  7. Suzanne says:

    I own a small business (very small, I’m the only employee). People always ask me for free things. I do feel bad sometimes, but I have also learned that the more freebies I give out, the more they come asking. I have recently begun to tell these people where they can go in our community for help.

    The idea of directing these folks to a library (along with a posting on your web site) is a fine one indeed!

  8. This is an easy one. You’re a writer. He’s mistaken you for a librarian. Correct him.

  9. Erin Lewis says:

    I spent a recent Saturday afternoon at a book fair hawking my father’s self published book with him. Towards the end of the day a woman came up to the gentleman next to us who was selling his science fiction novel. She gushed over the premise of the book for a bit and then told him she was a teacher in Philadelphia and would he consider coming to her school to speak. The man said he would be happy to speak. She then asked him for a free copy of the book to present to the department. It was at this point I noticed the woman was carrying two large shopping bags filled with books. It made me wonder how many other people she had given this same line to. It made me wonder if she was a teacher at all. The man was smart enough to say no.

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