Clean Reader: The Latest in Censorship?

A new app has come to my attention. It’s called Clean Reader, and its pitch is “Read books, not profanity.” What does it do? It filters out the “bad” words from a book as you’re reading it, either blocking them with an opaque rectangle or offering an acceptable (non-profane) alternative. Now on the surface, this might seem like a harmless idea…and hey, maybe it’s even a good thing if it means more readers will be able to enjoy my cleaned-up books, right?


I have two main–and strong–objections to this idea. First, it all boils down to the fact that someone has decided they know better than me how to write my books–or rather, how to rewrite them. This does not make me a happy camper. Or a happy writer. Because wth??? They’re changing books without the consent of authorsSeriously.

When I write a story, I choose my words with great care. I labour over them for days…weeks…months. Hell, I angst over my words as much as I did my children when the latter were teens (and if you’ve raised teens, you’ll understand how much angst that requires 😯 ).

Words form the world that I build for my story and the characters who inhabit that world. Words are my story. Start changing those words, and you change my story. Without my permission. And as Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, points out so succinctly, “Editors often suggest changes to the text, but no-one, not even the publisher, is allowed to impose changes, or to republish a censored, abridged or altered version of a text without the permission of the author.”

Yet, here is Clean App doing just that. Really?? 

And going beyond the obvious wrongness of that issue, we come to another even more pervasive one: just who the heck gets to decide what words are profane, and how far will it go?



Right now Clean Reader’s settings include “clean,” “cleaner,” and “squeaky clean,” with “clean” allowing readers to filter out the more profane words such as fuck, and “squeaky clean” filtering out all profanity (including damn) along with what the app calls “hurtful racial terms.”

But it doesn’t end there, because on its “squeaky clean” setting, the app goes on to filter out anatomically correct names for body parts! Have we really taken that big a step backwards? As Joanne points out in her response to an email she received from Clean Reader, “the toxic message [this] carries (that body parts are shameful and must not be mentioned by name; that sex is dirty and shameful) is likely to be extremely harmful to impressionable young people, and may result in serious psychological damage, with all the social consequences that may entail.”

To which I would add duh

Far from being harmless, this app smacks of censorship to me–and


we only have to look back on history to see what a slippery slope that can be. No, nope, nuh-uh, no way can we ever go in that direction again.

As to the idea that more readers will be able to read my books because they won’t be offended by the language? I say balls to that. If you don’t want to read the story I wrote, I suggest you go find another one instead, because you sure as hell don’t have the right to rewrite mine and I will not be censored.

Rant over.


P.S. Thanks to Chuck Wendig for bringing this to my attention via his blog post.

Important Update! After feedback from authors, Clean Reader has removed all books from its catalogue. Yes!!! 🙂



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11 responses to “Clean Reader: The Latest in Censorship?”

  1. sstogner1 Avatar

    How does this work? Is there a blank space where the offending word should be? They should stick in the word “censored” every place a word is removed . Or “beep”

    1. Linda Avatar

      It works either by putting a blank rectangle over the word or by imposing an alternative over it. Apparently all lady parts are referred to as “bottom”…like that’s not confusing as hell. Argh.

      1. sstogner1 Avatar

        well, the hero will always be putting his BEEP into her bottom…no more vaginal sex. And wetness in her bottom makes it sound like she has digestive issues

        1. Linda Avatar

          I know, right? 😛

  2. Bea @Bea's Book Nook Avatar

    This was all over Twitter yesterday and I had convos with several different authors about it. One couldn’t see the harm in but the others were upset, and rightfully so IMO. This is censorship, no question, and that is scary. I read the Clean Reader app site and it seems that their intentions are good but I’m just not comfortable with it. If you can’t handle the language in it, you have two choices: continue reading or decide you’re done and move on.

    1. Linda Avatar

      YES!!! My opinion exactly, Bea!

  3. […] Lynda Poitevin has a great post on the subject. […]

  4. D. D. Syrdal Avatar

    I think it’s disturbing that adult readers are so squeamish and puritanical that they feel they need this. Stick to children’s books if you can’t handle the real world. Making bad words go away in a book solves nothing apart from satisfying the reader’s vanity that they are somehow morally superior. Like you said, we choose certain words for certain reasons, we don’t arbitrarily toss in cuss words for the HELL of it. Don’t strip the guts out of my writing. If you don’t want to read certain words, don’t read the books they’re in.

    1. Linda Avatar

      Exactly, D.D.!

  5. Denise Targaryen Avatar

    Another thing I saw mentioned is that books are being sold through a third party that authors hadn’t authorized to sell their books. This is something else that had a lot of them really pissed off as well. I understand where all the complaints are coming from though. I have a feeling this app won’t be around much longer though.

    1. Linda Avatar

      I sincerely hope not, Denise. This thing smacks of all kinds of ugly. 🙁

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