Monday, August 10, 2009

Is "Clean" a Four-Letter Word?

I'm confused by something. I like to read widely. I like realistic problems, deep-felt struggles, and non-stereotypical characters in my fiction. I want to see how other people think and handle problems. (After all, I already know how I think.)

There are so many books out there no one can read them all, so we all have reading preferences--like reading only certain genre or liking the romantic lead to be tall, dark and handsome. My main "narrow down my choices of what to read" preferences are minimal cussing and no graphic sex.

(To be specific, I prefer no cussing or only a few cuss words per chapter or the "he cussed up a storm" style of handling bad language. If the novel contains sex, I prefer that it's realistic/has realistic consequences and isn't described graphically/titillatingly.) I've read books that don't meet these preferences, and, no, I'm not offended by them. I just don't prefer--for various reasons--to read them.

Since books don't have ratings on sex/gore/violence/bad language, I either have to confine my reading to imprints known for staying within my guidelines and settle for whatever writing quality I get or ask other readers for their recommendations of well-written mainstream fiction that meets my preferences. I like to branch out, so I've been asking for "clean reading" recommendations on Twitter, my blog, and a few other places.

I thought people would enjoy being asked for recommendations. I thought "clean" was the standard short-hand word used to give people an idea of what I meant. But this question seems to upset a few people. In fact, I've been told I should read according to their preferences instead of mine. *baffled look* Thank you, but you have your preferences and I have mine.

I honestly don't understand why people aren't just ignoring me or giving me a genuine recommendation. Why be upset? After all, I obviously respect and am interested in their reading choices or I wouldn't be asking for a recommendation.

So I can only conclude that using "clean" is somehow offending people when I never meant it to. So, if "clean" is a dirty word, what should I use instead?

Update: Amy pointed out that she wrote on this topic yesterday on her blog. I agree with her Read and Let Read post and think it's well worth reading.


Amy said...

People feel like they are being told they're dirty if you use the word clean. I don't think that's the intention of most people who use that shorthand, but that's what was explained to me.

You are welcome to ask me for recommendations! And also I point these things out in my reviews.

Genre Reviewer said...


I just read your post. To quote a section,

"A lot of people who don't want to read books with explicit sex or foul language often refer to these books as clean. Meaning...they are clean of explicit sex or foul language. Those things aren't present in the book. However, by describing the books as such it seems that people who don't mind or even notice those things in books feel as if it's being implied that other books are dirty or they are dirty for reading them.

This is the burden of language. We each carry our own histories and experiences into its usage, which can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and hurt."

Very true. I certainly don't think other books are "dirty" nor think that of people reading them.

I'd love to get reading recommendations from you.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I have trouble understanding
why the designation "clean" would
offend anyone and I did read the
explanation. It's a very common
way of describing what is not
present in a book. It makes no
judgement on any reader, just allows us to know that we don't
have to worry about what the
content might be. Thank you for
offering this service because there
are many, I'm sure. who want that

Genre Reviewer said...


Thank you for commenting. I started this blog because this was information I wanted to know about books and I assumed others did as well. I'm glad you agree that there's an interest out there.