I was browsing Facebook the other day as part of my pre-writing procrastination, when I came across this article from Book Riot about a Clean Reader App. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of it, it’s an App that you can download eBooks into, to remove or change certain ‘unsavoury’ words with dots, or a more palatable alternative.
Jared and Kirsten Maughan from Idaho in the USA came up with the idea because their daughter was reading at a level much higher than her peers. They wanted to continue to encourage their daughter to push herself with regards to her reading, but were concerned about the content of more adult books, after she brought home books from school with swearing in it. They spoke with lawyers who were quick to point out that they couldn’t re-publish books that had been edited in this manner as it would infringe copyright laws. The app that was eventually developed by Page Foundry gets past this issue by editing the original book for the use of the reader only. It does not make edited versions available to other people. Once you have bought a copy of an eBook, you can do what you like to it, including editing words you don’t like, much like taking a permanent marker to a physical book, if that is what you wish to do. This is legal because the book, either in eBook form or physical form, is your own to do with as you wish.
So whilst this App is legal, doesn’t infringe on the author’s copyright laws and doesn’t fall under the scope of censorship, it is leaving a lot of people, myself included, feeling rather uncomfortable.
From the comments I have read on various articles like the ones on Book Riot, Huffington Post, LDS Media Talk and also this gem of a blog I found a link to, many people are torn between their beliefs that everyone should have the freedom of choice and some religious beliefs regarding purity etc., but also that the app has the potential to get in the way of open-mindedness and slow down progression. My own initial thought; that the replacement of certain profane words with less offensive ones could completely change the tenor of the story intended by the author; is also a widely expressed one. Think of this classic sentence from Gone with the Wind:
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Can you imagine it being changed to “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a •” Or even worse “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a monkeys.”? The dot is strange and the alternative completely changes the atmosphere and inflection behind the words spoken. One comment I read claimed that authors who use profanity are doing so to cover up their poor grasp of the english language. I completely and utterly disagree with this. As a writer of horror stories, profanity can be used in my stories to shock the mind on purpose, the psychology behind profanity and people’s reactions to them are exactly why they are used. They show you things like anger and disrespect without the writer adding things like ‘they said angrily.’ which would be quite poor as a writing technique. I’m not trying to be delicate about brutal murder and jealousy and all kinds of other things that can rear it’s ugly head in a horror story. It’s not that I don’t have a good grasp of the english language, it’s that I have a good understanding of both the language AND the psychology behind people’s reactions.
In cases where there is a lot of profanity within a book, the replacement with dots could render the passages unreadable and take away from the reader the understanding of relationships between certain characters and parts of the storyline, which can only frustrate the reader just as much as the uncomfortable sensation they might feel at reading a ‘bad’ word. It’s also unrealistic. People use profanity all the time and pretending they don’t doesn’t, to me, seem like a good way to prepare your children for the outside world.
In my opinion, books are many things rolled into one. They can be an escape from the world as well as a window into it. They can re-affirm your opinions and ideas, or they can challenge them. They can be educational, or purely for fun. They can be uncomfortable. They can bring to your attention the horrors of the world that should not be ignored. I can’t help but feel that a lot of people who want to avoid such content is doing nothing more than attempting to protect the little bubble they have put around their life so that they can pretend everything is rosy. Life isn’t like that.
I understand that some content can trigger people. People who have survived rape, for example, might not want to read books with a rape scene involved. That is completely understandable to me. Maybe books would be better off with a rating like movies have? Then people can choose the books they want to read without the writing of the author being physically changed. I have seen a lot of comments from people who think that rating books is just as bad as using a clean reader app. Personally, as a compromise, I think it would be a good idea.
What do you think about the clean reader app? Would you use it? Do you think a book rating system, similar to movies, would be a good alternative? Let me know in the comments below.