Chocolat author Joanne Harris is claiming a “small victory for the world of dirt” after an app that blanked out the profanities in books, replacing them with so-called clean alternatives, removed all titles from its online catalogue following a week of angry protests from writers.
Clean Reader set out to enable customers to, in its own words, “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.
Profanities such as “fucking” and “fucker” became “freaking” and “idiot”, “hell” became “heck” and “shit” became “crap”, according to an analysis of the app by Jennifer Porter. It was not only swear words that Clean Reader scrubbed out of books: Porter, who ran a series of romance novels through the app, found that body parts were also replaced. “Penis” became “groin”, “vagina” was swapped for “bottom” and “breast” changed to “chest”. Exclamations such as “Jesus Christ” became “geez”, “piss” became “pee”, “bitch” became “witch” and “blowjob” was switched with the euphemistic “pleasure”.
Jared and Kirsten Maughan, the Christian founders of Clean Reader, came up with the idea after their daughter objected to the swear words in a book she was reading at school, and worked with the Chicago firm Page Foundry to create the filtering programme. This came with three settings: clean, which “only blocks major swear words from display”, cleaner, and squeaky clean, the most restrictive setting, which “will block the most profanity from a book including some hurtful racial terms”.
Harris replied in a blogpost “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.”
Clean Reader removed all titles from online catalogue after writers protests.