Bad language in books got you down? There’s an app for that. From the Clean Reader web site:
Clean Reader prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen. You decide how clean your books should appear and Clean Reader does the rest.
A Harry Potter-style broom icon is engaged to clean the crap (sorry) right out of the e-book you are reading. It leaves behind nothing beyond a little gap and some dots where the offending letters were previously located. And how clean is clean?
The “Clean” setting only blocks major swear words from display. This includes all uses of the F-word we could find. The “Cleaner” setting blocks everything that “Clean” blocks plus more. “Squeaky Clean” is the most restrictive setting and will block the most profanity from a book including some hurtful racial terms.
Aside from the fact that all of this stuff is pretty subjective (What is “hurtful”? What is “profanity”? What is “clean”?) how can anyone think that altering the text of a book in this way is a good thing? One of the things I do is write novels. When I choose a word, I do so for a reason. I’ve chosen it for the way it fits in with the other words on the page. How it enhances the meaning of those other words and how it sounds in the mind when you read it. Are you offended by my word choice? Maybe sometimes. But it’s a bit world. And there are a lot of books in it. Go read one of those.
On their blog, the Clean Reader folks have a snappy (if poorly composed) reply for that:
When I get a salad at a restaurant and the chef thinks the salad is best served with blue cheese on it, I will spend a significant amount of time trying to find and remove every piece of blue cheese. Then I’m able to enjoy the salad. In the restaurant world the chef is the artist. He has spent his entire professional life trying to create masterful pieces of art to be served on a dish or in a bowl. Is the chef offended when I don’t eat the blue cheese? Perhaps. Do I care? Nope. I payed [sic] good money for the food and if I want to consume only part of it then I have that right. Everyone else at the table can consume their food however they want. Me removing the blue cheese from my salad doesn’t impact anyone else at the table.
Okay, right, it doesn’t. But at a time when hundreds of thousands of books are published every year, why not choose a different book? (Or a salad that doesn’t have blue cheese, for that matter.)
But if you insist on ordering that salad you don’t like, you might as well have an app to “fix” it. And, essentially, Clean Reader makes it possible for you take my carefully wrought prose and pull the stuffing out of it if you desire. Is it even legal? Clean Reader says so:
We’ve discussed this with several lawyers and they have all agreed that Clean Reader does not violate copyright law because it doesn’t make changes to the file containing the book. All Clean Reader does is change the way the content is displayed on the screen. The user has the option of turning off the profanity filtering tool if desired. No changes are made to the original book the user downloads when they buy a book.
And yet, reading it that way can alter every aspect of the intent of the work. And, as The Huffington Post says:
It’s also worth pausing, however, to note that ebooks have once again shifted the balance. No longer does an author necessarily have the option of signing off on altered editions — at least if the alteration is merely a filter applied to the original book. Once we had to wait until books left copyright — long after they’d become fixtures in literary and cultural history — before we could play freely with their stories. Now, we can read a book that came out yesterday in a form as heavily edited as the recently sanitized edition of the classic Huck Finn.
Perhaps this is all meaningless. After all, the changes aren’t “real.” But it’s worth wondering what this newly unstable sense of reality means for readers.
The Clean Reader app is free. Downloading sweepable books, however, is not.