I recently read an article on NPR about the (free) Clean Reader app, which replaces profanity with clean language. The buzz on Twitter and reviews of the app are heated! Of course, I immediately thought of April and her “problem with clean reading” post last year. Author Cory Doctorow offers a thoughtful perspective as well. I couldn’t get this app to recognize the books on my Android phone (it isn’t available for Nook tablets) so I made April try it out on her iPad using Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber.
Wait a second, they blotted out “Jesus” in the next to last sentence. How can you read a book about faith on this thing? What setting was this, April? Can it be turned off completely or do you have to use a different app?
Cleaner and Squeaky Clean do not. So sorry, all you older Richards out there.
Guys, for me this app was a hoot and a holler. I wanted to find an e-copy of the Dick and Jane books and run it through this app—I think it would have made the books more offensive. “See Groin run. Run Groin, run!” Also, I can’t imagine what the Bible would look like in this app—which is a major failing of anything like this, there’s no room for context and consideration of the work as a whole—instead we’re just taking out all those gosh darn naughty words.
I can see piracy complaints, or at least copyright issues, with the company selling the edited books from within the app. But I read that they removed the store from the app itself…so, are people saying the “piracy” then falls on the user when they upload a book?
If they aren’t selling books, then I don’t have much of a problem with this. I may personally balk at the thought of censoring reading but ultimately, I’d rather someone choose to read a “clean” book and learn from its ideas than ignore the book completely. I don’t think they should force that choice on anyone else (and vice versa). But once you purchase a book, it’s yours to do what you want with. Write in the margins, strike out words, add your own thoughts. It’s fine, even if others faint at the thought of writing in a book. This is a digital version of that. But reselling your “edited” version in mass quantities? That would be crossing a line.
Could you take the kettledrums out of Beethoven because you don’t like loud noises and still call it Beethoven? #CleanReader
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) March 26, 2015
This app, while I think it is ridiculous, is nowhere near the same thing as piracy. It’s an individual choice. I just don’t understand wanting to read a book that has content you don’t want to read! The author has written it that way for a reason.
Might there be situations where this app serves a purpose? People for whom profanity triggers obsessive thoughts? Maybe parents of especially young but precocious readers? What if an app like this would get someone to read ideas they wouldn’t otherwise be open to?
The first thing I thought of with this was all the controversy around Huckleberry Finn and the attempt to censor the language by creating different versions of the novel. I love the thought of encouraging young readers, but I think if we trust a child with the themes of a novel, we should also trust them with its language. We can’t show them the history of slavery and racism through 90% of a book and cleanse the remaining 10%.
I agree, Shannon. In the context of young readers I think that it’s about trusting our children and realizing that they’re often capable of handling way more than we give them credit for. This also makes me think of the ridiculous Harry Potter fan fiction that popped up awhile ago Hogwart’s School of Prayer and Miracles the author claimed she was just trying to clean it up for her kids but in the process decimated the entire book. I think that an app like this is far preferable to parents trying to re-write good books completely. I realize this sounds contrary to my comment above, but honestly—this app just isn’t for people like me.
So what about its place in schools? I know many teachers have to work with parents who don’t approve of assigned novels for various reasons. It’s hard to know without seeing exactly what would be replaced, but I can’t imagine a “clean” version of most books would provide students with the reading experience they need to succeed in an English class. More than anything, it seems like it has the potential to be incredibly confusing, particularly if the book is already written in language that’s difficult for the student to read.
What do you think, readers? Does an app like this serve a purpose or is it bordering on piracy? Could using it help open doors for reluctant readers or does it just open doors for censorship?