The short life and unlamented downfall of Clean Reader leads to musings on the reader-author relationship
Blink and you might have missed the kerfuffle. The so-called Clean Reader app offered the chance to read without sullying your precious mind with rude words and profanity by covering them with an alternative deemed acceptable by the app’s creators. However, the backlash from authors including Joanna Harris meant that very rapidly the company was obliged to remove all books from its catalogue. The app seems to still exist (so perhaps my blog headline might be misleading) but I shall watch with interest the developments. I have a feeling we are not done with Clean Reader yet. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/27/clean-reader-books-app-censorship-victory-authors-celebrate
There were some excellent explorations about what the existence of such an app means, the best of which was here:
A conversation on Twitter set me to thinking about the relationship between reader and author. The one set out by Joanne Harris is one of dignified mutual respect. Yet another Harris, Charlaine, in fact, author of the True Blood series of books, received death threats over her decision to stop writing the series, and often received very abusive messages when fans disliked the turn a book took. This is the “the emerging transactional relationship many readers are seeking to have with the texts they purchase.” that Remittance Girl writes about so eloquently.
At its best, the dignity of the reader-author relationship that Joanne Harris mentions, is one of fully mature and enlightened adults. It’s one where the author has nothing to fear from readers, and readers can approach a new book by a favourite author and not throw a hissy fit if it is not exactly what they wanted it to be. The other relationship experienced by Charlaine Harris is a blight on the world of the printed word. It makes an author a slave to their readers, afraid and even unable to develop as an author, or explore other genres or techniques.
The realisation has been dawning on me that the power of this transactional relationship (ie someone has paid for a PRODUCT) and therefore demands a product rather than a work of imagination and creativity that does not fit neatly or at all into the box it was believed to have been in (but usually wasn’t) is a pernicious and worrying one. It undermines the integrity and security of a creative artist (author etc) to produce what their (and I hate the term) Muse brings to them. It boils down to this: if I write something that is hated by those who have previously loved my work, the relationship is over because it is seen that I have not provided the “goods” they have paid for. Making literature into a transaction where the buyer believes they have purchased a commodity that conforms to their expressed wishes is a dangerous thing. It means for a start that to survive authors have to tailor their work to the parameters dictated. You could argue that this is precisely what genre fiction already does, but I would disagree. For certain there are a vast ocean of books that could (and perhaps have been) written using a template so that they conform to the genre. However, within these guidelines the authors are free to write whatever tale they want. It’s a discipline, like writing a sonnet. Sonnets have a set number of lines, a required metre and rhyme, and if those are not conformed to, the poem is not a sonnet; within those constraints a poet is able to write about whatever he or she chooses. There is endless freedom within a rigid system.
That isn’t what I mean, though. What I mean is this: an author stops daring to write what wild and crazy and wonderful ideas that come, because they feel sure the backlash from readers will be so devastating it will wipe them out; because they fear the annihilation that comes with plummeting sales, of being dropped by their publisher, of the snide and abusive comments of former fans dripping vitriol.