What does ‘Clean Reads’ mean to you?

'Oliver Twist' dates from a time when all fiction made available to the public was expected to be 'clean'.

‘Oliver Twist’ dates from a time when all fiction made available to the public was expected to be ‘clean’.

There is a quiet revolution going on among readers. When they pick up a novel, if they find it full of f-bombs and sex scenes, they put it down and go in search of a ‘clean read’.

My mother, who is in her late eighties, is a long time reader of category romances— Harlequins and the like. She was certainly young enough when the ‘bodice ripper’ romance— romance with sex scenes— first became popular to learn to put up with sex scenes in her fiction, and even to enjoy it and expect it. But when she goes to the Saint Vincent de Paul thrift shop to pick up some romances, she chooses the Harlequin romance lines known for being ‘clean reads’ and avoids the other kind (some of which require three full sex scenes per novel).

I, being in my fifties and having spent many years of my life as a Neopagan who didn’t accept Christian values, got used to reading books without regard to whether they were ‘clean reads’ or not. As a teen, when I was a believing Christian, I read ‘bodice ripper’ romances out of curiosity about sex, though I knew it wasn’t morally right reading material. But as I’ve grown older I find that the bad elements of ‘dirty’ fiction have grown worse as the old level of badness has lost its power to shock. I find myself searching for clean reads as well— even if I have to start reading Louis L’Amour Westerns!

There are of course those who despise the idea of ‘clean reads’. I read a blog at the ‘School Library Journal’ which decries the term since it implies that sex scenes and foul language are dirty. The blogger also demands that books displaying ‘family values’ portray homosexual couples as normal families. The message seems to be that the large numbers of readers who want ‘clean reads’ should not be accommodated in any way— not even in public school libraries.

But for the rest of us, we want fiction that doesn’t violate our basic sense of right and wrong. We don’t want distorted fiction that makes it seem that life is all about committing immoral sex acts and uttering rude language that would make a 19th century army mule skinner blush. We want entertainment that entertains rather than shocks!

As an adult reader, I’m somewhat saddened that in order to get ‘clean reads’ I often need to read children’s books of the ‘young adult’ variety. I want to be able to read like a grown-up! Just not like a perverted grown-up. But sadly our society often views ‘dirty’ fiction as an issue only in connection with child readers or viewers.

In order to find clean fiction, and for authors to write it, we need to come up with some rules for defining clean fiction. They must be distinct from the rules for Christian fiction, because even though Christian fiction normally is ‘clean’, clean fiction is a broader category. It can include fiction that would fit in the secular fiction category, as well as works by authors of non-Christian faiths which express the religious values of those faiths. (Naturally, Christian clean fiction fans might not enjoy some clean fiction written by Jewish or Muslim authors that might portray Christians in a less than ideal light.)

Ben Crowder’s blog: Clean science fiction and fantasy

How do YOU feel about ‘clean fiction’? How would you define it? Can contemporary clean fiction rise to the high levels of the classic authors of the past (Charles Dickens, Jane Austin) who wrote when fiction was required to be  ‘clean’?


One thought on “What does ‘Clean Reads’ mean to you?

  1. I prefer my reads clean. I use reading as an escapist kinda thing and so I want to go to places I want to stay. All this gritty stuff that’s popular today is just not my thing.

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