I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been blogging. I started writing a couple of blogs—one about the Andrew Smith issue, another about a review that accused Five Stages of not having any non-white characters, and one about the post going around challenging readers to read books by non-white, non-male authors for a year—but each time I got more than a few lines in, my brain just sort of shut off. I mean, I think other voices have spoken more eloquently than I could about Andrew Smith; I know that there are quite a few non-white characters in Five Stages, and pointing them out won’t change the review; and I think people who are opposed to the book challenge won’t be swayed by anything I have to say (though that may just be my defeatism talking). So, I’m sorry for my absence.
Today, I saw this article in the SLJ about the Clean Reader app. Basically, it’s a reading app that blanks out and/or replaces, “profanity, references to anatomical features or deities or other language deemed offensive from titles available through an online book store.”
Here’s the thing: I know that parents can make all kinds of arguments for why they don’t want their children exposed to profanity or sex or other deities (Other deities? Really? Can you imagine what this app would do to The Lightning Thief?), and I fully support every parent’s right to make those decisions for their children. However, I write books. I agonize over every word. I put those words into sentences and those sentences into paragraphs in the order in which I intend for them to be read. If you choose not to let your child read my books, I’m totally okay with that. But I’m not okay with someone altering my work to make it more palatable.
Over on Goodreads, someone posed a question asking whether The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley was appropriate for a 7th grader. Five Stages has profanity, it contains gay characters, two boys kiss, there is talk of a merkin, the characters are hugely flawed and sometimes make inappropriate jokes, it deals with death and suicide and bullying. It is a tough book, but one I feel is also worth reading. So when I answered that question, I said that it would depend on the 7th grader. Some 7th graders might not be emotionally mature enough for the book. Some definitely will be. And I’m totally comfortable with parents reading my books before deciding whether or not their children can read them. Parents, after all, should know their children well enough to know whether or not they can handle difficult content.
But it’s all or nothing for me. Either someone reads my books (warts and all) or they don’t. Using some app to block out portions deemed offensive destroys the integrity of the work.
My mom reads my books, so I never write anything I’d be embarrassed for her to read. And this is the woman who flipped out the first time I cussed in front of her (I was at least 18 at the time). That’s one of the standards I write by, and I think it’s served me pretty well.
But at the end of the day, I’d rather lose a reader than have them read some watered down, neutered version of my books.
And just for fun, I actually downloaded the app, bought my own book, and put together a little slideshow of some of the “changes” it made. Enjoy.