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Sunday, 22 March 2015 19:07

My Clean Reader App Experience

Written by Jennifer Porter
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IMG 7105Caution: This post contains a whole host of words that some might consider profanities.


I’m never entirely sure why I do the things that I do, but when I heard about the release of the Clean Reader app I had to find out more. The app is billed as a way to stop the display of profanity in ebooks - “read books, not profanity” is their slogan. Mostly horrified by the idea, I decided that I needed to experience the app to find out if my horror was justified. There is an app for iOS devices, so I immediately went to iTunes and downloaded the free app. I then set out to discover more . . . .


I do want to say that I don’t really care what a reader does with a book. A reader has a right not to want to read books with profanity in them. I personally think the best way to deal with this is to not buy the offensive books. But again, I understand this isn’t always possible as books do not come with warning labels about everything someone might find offensive. Also, the app seemed to be designed in order to give parents the ability to filter their children’s books. Again, I think parents have that right. As a result, the idea of an app that allows a reader to control what is displayed does not offend me. Yet, I have several issues with the Clean Reader app.


After I downloaded the app, I started searching for romance novels - and was surprised to find there was a large collection. I mean romance novels have sex and well, words used to describe sex seem like they could be considered profane. But after having browsed the Clean Reader store, I found that there do not appear to be any romance novels that are tagged with the erotic or erotic tag. The genres that are available are African American, Collections & Anthologies, Contemporary, Fantasy, Gay, Historical, Lesbian, Military, Multicultural & Interracial, New Adult, Paranormal, Romantic Comedy, Science Fiction, Suspense, Time Travel, and Western. The catalog seems to be built off of Inktera’s ebook collection (http://www.inktera.com). As a side note, Inktera’s romance genres mirror those in the Clean Reader app except that Inktera does sell erotic romance.



So, a big issue for me is that the ebook store is obviously curated as it seems as if there was a conscious decision to not sell anything that was tagged with a subject of erotic or erotica. Apparently, erotic romance novels are by their nature profane? I am bothered by this curation and also as I’m not sure that I trust Inktera’s tagging process. Jackie Ashenden’s Living in Secret is not tagged as erotica while Shayla Black’s Wicked All the Way is. Living in Secret is certainly as erotic if not more so than Wicked All the Way. How and why are books tagged as erotic? This is critical to know, but I could not find any information that would answer this question.


The Clean Reader site and app makes no reference to erotic material, so the lack of erotic titles came as a surprise to me. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so much as a shock as an indication that indeed the people running this site are making judgements about book content and are not being transparent about it.


After poking around in the Clean Reader store, I finally found several titles to buy and test: Jackie Ashenden’s Living in Secret, Christine Bell’s Down for the Count and Johanna Lindsey’s Secret Fire (this last one simply because it has a character named Semen and I needed to know if Semen was a bad word - it isn’t). Yes, readers MUST purchase books to be read in the reader through their store. I read all three books keeping the app on the Squeaky Clean setting. There are three: Clean, Cleaner and Squeaky Clean in order to give the reader the choice about how heavily scrubbed they would like their book. I went right for Squeaky Clean as I wanted to get the full experience.


The app seems to simply use a find and replace schema to find certain identified profane words and white them out. A green dot is place in each redacted white spot where readers can click to get a less offensive suggestion to the profanity in the original text. The original text is not modified, the words are just redacted. The following is a list of words that are identified as bad in the Squeaky Clean setting.

Bad Word

Suggested Replacement





































Oh my God

Oh my goodness

















Jesus Christ


fucking hell

freaking heck















Interestingly, the following words are not considered profane: squirt, spurt, orgasm, goddamnit, horniness, semen, suck, condom, manhood, clit, nipple, Good Lord, God, erotic, half-assed, naked, sensual and sexual. And why are sexy and sex bad but not sexual? I do not claim that this is an entire list. I built it from reading three romance novels with varying levels of erotic content. My take on some of the non-bad words is that they were just missed. The Clean Reader site has an FAQ asking that people submit offensive words or phrases that they may have missed (http://www.cleanreaderapp.com/faqs/).


I found reading books with redacted words to be extremely choppy and uncomfortable. In most cases (unless it was in dialogue), it is not easy to figure out what the sentence is supposed to mean. This makes it often a requirement for readers to click on the dot and see the suggested word. And while some word suggestions do not change the meaning of the sentence, some change it entirely - with almost hilarious results. But seriously, the word suggestions are vital to the story. I mostly joke here, but this is seriously wrong on many levels.


The most egregious example of this is the fact that all words for female genitalia (vagina and pussy) are replaced with bottom. Take the following:


“Where shall I [freak] you, Victoria? Where do you want my [groin]?”


“I want it in . . . my [bottom].” from Jackie Ashenden’s Living in Secret


Apparently, all sex (which of course is a bad word itself) is actually anal sex (or bottom love) as vaginas are entirely erased by the Clean Reader app. I am willing to be that this wasn’t intentional but it makes a very profound and dismissive statement about female sexuality.


And this, to me, is the biggest problem with the app. It is indeed making judgements about profanity and about sexuality with its choices about which words it defines as profane. And yes, I did read a sentence in one of the aforementioned books where the heroine was talking about chicken breasts which is apparently bad. Also, bastard has a very specific and important meaning in historical romance - and suggesting jerk in its place is not helpful or in keeping with the actual meaning of the word.


The app is not nuanced. It can’t distinguish between chicken breasts or women’s breasts. It seems to works simply with a find and replace which make the word redactions and replacements inappropriate at times. While I can see some value in removing the words fuck and shit from books that children are reading, I can see no other value. The app is a form of censorship as people who we do not know are making decisions about what is profane and what is not. Personally, I agree with few of their choices. There is no explanation given for their choices. I would not be as bothered by the app if each reader were allowed to build their own filters.


Overall, I found reading books in the Clean Reader app to be hilarious - something I do not believe the creators intended. The app actually seems to make sex naughtier given that all the groins are visiting the ladies’ bottoms. I admit to being glad for this because it made reading and live tweeting so much more fun.

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 March 2015 18:00
Jennifer Porter

Jennifer Porter

Romance Novel News

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