Clean Reader

I find the reaction to the Clean Reader app rather amusing.


The app was created by the Idaho parents Jared and Kirsten Maughan who were concerned that their daughter had read a book with words that made her uncomfortable.

The app is available on Apple and Android, and it works on a scale from “Clean”, which replaces swear words such as “f***” to “Squeaky Clean” which will replace words including “damn”.  It does not remove any words from a digital file, rather it puts an opaque highlight over the word.  The app can be turned off so that the reader can consume the book exactly as it was written.  On this basis, the creators claim that their app does no violate copyright because it doesn’t make changes to the file which contains the book.

Some authors have gone ballistic.

Joanne Harris, award-winning author of Chocolate and The Gospel of Loki fond the concept of Clean reader “infinitely more offensive than the words it blanks out”.   She added: ” We’ve been down this road before.  We should know where it leads by now.  It starts out by blanking out a few words.  It goes on to . . . stick fig leaves on statues.  It progresses to denouncing gay or Jewish artists as “degenerate”.  It ends up with burning libraries and erasing whole civilizations from history.”

Laurie Penny, a journalist and author said, “There’s now an app for taking swear words out of books.  I find this f***ing horrifying!”

Linda Acaster, a novelist from Yorkshire, stated: “The first act of censorship is to censor books.  The second is to ban them.   The third is to burn them.”

I’m pretty relaxed about this, and I don’t see this silly app as the “sharp end of the wedge” of a new drive for censorship.  I think Western society is liberal and mature enough not to get all upset about the use of the f-word.  After all, it’s used on day-time soap operas, and, if one listens carefully, is part of the vocabulary of the average twelve-year-old.

As an author, I don’t use swear words in descriptive text, because I think that there are alternative adjectives and adverbs that better express the picture I’m trying to convey.  But I certainly have put the f-word into the mouth of a character when his use of the word tells the reader something about him (or her).  (Real people do use profanity).

Would I worry that one of my grandchildren wanted to read one of my novels (The Iranian Scorpion, for example)?  It would depend on the age of the child.  I would say OK to a thirteen-year old who wanted to read it, after I explained what it was about.   (I would be more concerned about the violence than I would be about the drugs, sex and profanity, about which I think most teenagers have at least an abstract understanding.  Video games notwithstanding, I think that real adult violence can be hard to understand.)

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