Clean Reader

I remember seeing something online somewhere which mentioned a Clean Reader App and I vaguely thought to myself that something like that would have been handy in the days when I was having to choose books for very straitlaced women within my own family. I thought it would just come up with suitable reading suggestions for those types who hate mentions of swearing and anything racy or too ‘near the knuckle’.

It never occurred to me that it was an app which removes what are seen to be offensive words and replaces them with words deemed to be more acceptable.

It was only when I read this article in today’s Guardian that I realised this.

Joanne Harris who wrote Chocolat is claiming a small victory after the couple behind the app removed all titles from its online catalogue.

I’m not a wild sweary beast myself although on occasions when no other words fit the moment I’m cursing with the best of us on a daily basis, just look at the news and that’ll get anyone swearing, but it seems to me to be madly arrogant to take it upon yourself to muck around with a writer’s words, without so much as a by your leave.

This whole idea seems to have been thought up by a couple who are of a religious persuasion who have set themselves up as censors of the written word. I bet you that when Jesus Christ was doing his stuff in the Holy Land he was not averse to using the odd swear word himself, he had good reason to after all. That turning of the tables in the temple would almost certainly have been accompanied by a good few blue words thrown at those moneychangers/rabbis! Those app people are setting themselves up to be better than Jesus Christ.

But I suppose this whole idea is just the extreme version of what has been going on over some years, like the updating of Enid Blyton’s books, changing the whole character of them and the expunging of that ‘n’ word from works written when it was actually common. It’s like trying to airbrush things out of history and that can never be a good thing.

Harris said on Friday: “I don’t see what changes they can make to stop it being an offensive app. But there is nothing which stops them from starting again quietly once things have died down. It’s a question of watching.”

And as writers applauded the announcement, others mourned it. One supporter of the app wrote: “The fact is that we readers would love to hear some of your creative stories without the icky unnecessary junk language.

“There are some really great and important literary works that are eliminated from our study because I’m not willing to compromise our standards. Not for myself or for our kids.”

Harris replied in a blogpost: “Shakespeare wrote icky unnecessary junk language. So did Chaucer, DH Lawrence, Philip Larkin, James Joyce.

“If a reader chooses to avoid reading my books, that’s fine. She has that right. If she hates it, that’s also fine. If she has opinions on how it could have been done better, that’s also fine, because she’s entitled to her opinion, whether I agree or not. BUT – her opinion does not extend to changing my work in any way. My book, my rules, and that includes my words. ALL of them.”

16 thoughts on “Clean Reader

  1. That’s unbelievable! I would certainly think a lawsuit would be appropriate from authors.

    Definitely agree with you about airbrushing out the past!

    • Peggy Ann,
      I would definitely take them to court if I were an author and they changed things.

      I find some things to be so ‘bending over backward’ to be politically correct that they actually end up seeming racist. It’s an insult to the people who were/are actually victims of racism to airbrush it out.

  2. Funny having just posted about Jeremy Clarkson on your blog, airbrushing everything out seems to be the way forward. Bad/foul language exists and I am known to use it on occasions. However I always remember someone saying to me swearing was due to a lack of vocabulary which means I try harder.

    However I would never dream of expecting it to be cleaned up in some of our great literary works. And as for the updated Enid Blyton, it is like someone has erased my childhood.

    • Jo,
      Yes I’ve been told that old one about swearing being the result of a poor vocabulary but there are occasions when nothing else hits the spot. I think they are completely removing the charm and atmosphere of old books, I enjoyed ‘old fashioned’ books when I was a youngster and I think that young people today are no different from us, underneath it all.

      • I’ve also always heard that swearing is the sign of an inadequate vocabulary. On the other hand, I have yet to hear anyone say, ‘Oh, my goodness gracious – I just hit my thumb with the hammer!’

  3. I agree, both about this crazy app and also with the updating of my childhood tales. Has it been done with all of them I wonder or is it peculiar to our British notions of political correctness? I’m thinking of books such as the ‘Anne’ and ‘Emily’ series by L. M. Montgomery. I still read them on occasion but my copies are old (and worn) with all the original text. Other favourites from childhood are the Chalet School series by Elinor M. Brent Dyer; when Armada printed those in paperback they cut out whole segments. One wonders how they were allowed to do that.

    • Karen,
      I think that this sort of nonsense probably goes on even more in the US. I know that they were changing bits in Mark Twain’s books some time ago. I think that maybe when books are no longer under copyright then they can do anything they want with them and of course the author is not around to complain about it. I hadn’t heard about the Chalet School books being butchered, they’re airbrushing our childhood!

  4. Katrina, I could NOT agree more wholeheartedly. If you don’t like the words an author uses, DON’T READ HIM OR HER. Demanding bowdlerisation of a work to suit one’s own preferences is the worst sort of hubris. Enough to make Mary Whitehouse spin in her grave, in fact.

    I grew up in a house with one entire bookshelf devoted to D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and the like. Did me no harm whatever – although I may have been Georgia’s only seventeen-year-old who saw the ads for the film of Women in Love and thought – ‘Oh, I know that story!’

    • Sandy,
      It’s beyond me how they could think that it was acceptable to take someone else’s work and mangle it until it fitted in with their prejudices. That Mary Whitehouse should have concentrated on her own family instead of poking her nose in everywhere else! I used to live quite near her in Essex.

  5. Isn’t it crazy? I don’t blame the authors who don’t want their books made available through the app. I think it’s not only silly but wrong to want to sanitize books in a such a way. No one is forcing anyone to read them after all!

    • Stefanie,
      I can’t even begin to imagine what is going on in those people’s heads. Given everything which is going on in the world you would think they would have something more important to worry about than a few swear words. I can’t even see that replacing shit with crap is any better, they both mean the same but crap is American I suppose!

  6. Not American in origin…just another thing the GIs apparently brought back from Europe (

    I have a spectacular vocabulary, including a spicy word when the occasion calls for it (like when I was stuck in traffic for 2.5 hours on my 8 mile drive home last Tuesday!)

    My only objection to profanity is when it is overused. Like when young people use the F word as punctuation. That just shows an absence of creativity…

    • Pearl,
      There you go – I live and learn. It just seems to be used more in the US nowadays and isn’t used much here at all. It seems to be ancient Dutch, but they weren’t even in the First World War so it’s obviously a lot older than that. Some people here use the F word with the tenderest of intonation, such as when they’re looking at a new born baby or some such thing, then it doesn’t seem like a profanity at all.
      I saw you were stuck in that terrible traffic, not my idea of life in Honolulu somehow, no wonder you were swearing!

  7. They took lumps out of the Chalet School books??? What on earth was in those to make anyone want to censor them? I used to read them avidly in hardback but don’t remember there being any bad words. What was all that about?

    • Evee,
      I just can’t imagine what would have been in them which would have upset anyone. Maybe the girls were being too independent or something. Some parents complained about the Famous Five because they went off on their bikes on their own for adventures!

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