“In the shallow world of BookTok, being ‘a reader’ is more important than actually reading.”
The recycled and stale argument against fangirls for not “appreciating real music” has found its way to BookTok. One writer (whose experience consisted of a biased scroll while bored on Christmas break) has shallowly summarized BookTok as a community of pretend book lovers more interested in being perceived as readers than genuinely enjoying books. Usually, I’ll read something like this with quiet rage and move on, but I felt compelled to respond to this article. Maybe it was their subtle boast that drove me to start typing.
“I used to be a BookTuber, one of the bigger ones actually.”
I was shocked. How could someone with such a close background, who understood the desire to share and discuss their favorite reads, simplify BookTok to shallowness?
A new era of reading
It is disheartening to see, once again, a group of excited women ridiculed and stripped of their legitimacy because we enjoy the experience of being a reader just as much as we love reading. I see BookTok as a new era of reading. When I first began making videos about books, I was shaking in my boots. There is a stigma attached to romance books being juvenile that I felt would surely follow me if I spoke about them online. I carried the same self-consciousness I had when asked about my favorite book on the first day of university. It was an unspoken rule not to mention romance if it wasn’t written before the 20th century. I was embarrassed to say romance books were my favorite, even to my family. That they are the reason I fell in love with reading. I couldn’t walk down the romance aisle at the bookstore without looking over my shoulder. Everything changed after BookTok. How can we condense all of BookTok to shallowness when it’s gotten people out of years-long reading slumps? How can we not praise books that get people excited to read again? The BookTok community has demolished that stereotype of romance being a lesser genre, and readers are now unabashed about their choice of books. Barnes and Noble’s quiet and dusty aisles are now buzzing with the hushed, excited whispers of people who’ve heard about this book via BookTok. I’ll always leave a bookstore smiling when I see a group of teens sitting on the floor, showing their hauls to each other in the privacy of the YA section. How can we feel nothing but awe for this online community that has reinvented the popularity of reading? According to Words Rated, “In 2022, over 788.7 million copies of printed books were sold in the United States. This figure was the second-highest sales mark for printed books in the 21st century, trailing only a record-setting 2021 with 843 million copies sold.” I wonder who’s responsible for the sudden increase?
“It became my latest obsession in much the same way that one might become obsessed with sticking your tongue in plug sockets. But there was just something about watching the same twenty books being flaunted again and again.”
While I can’t deny that some titles are repeated, reducing BookTok to “the same twenty books” ignores the efforts of notable creators endeavor to amplify diverse and independent voices. In a recent BBC article, “Lloyd Devereux Richards, a full-time attorney and father of three, spent 14 years pursuing his dream of writing a book (and the next 11 years hoping for the thriller to take off). It did not take off until his daughter posted a 16-second TikTok video with a simple message: “I’d love for him to get some sales.”’“The news of his overnight fame has overwhelmed Mr. Richards, who cried while reading the comments section of the TikTok post after his daughter told him it went viral.His daughter cried, too, thanking fans for the purchases. “Because of them, you’re number one,” she told her dad.” Content creator Jenanie (or @thisstoryaintover) uses her digital platform to get readers consciously choose books by BIPOC authors in 2023. She, along with thousands of other creators, like Lee from @books.with.lee, has created a space that uplifts and promotes indie and marginalized voices in a predominantly white publishing space. Arlene from the independent bookseller City Books has over 100K followers and has used her account to share their passion for thrifted books and promote small business shopping.The Ripped Bodice bookstore is a proud woman and queer-owned romance-only bookstore dedicated to having diverse reads. If it weren’t for BookTok, I would never have heard about them and had the opportunity to visit them.
Reading as an art form
“Some people treat books like totemic, magical objects,”
And to that, I say: so what? Bookstagram, and by extension, BookTok, has made reading an art form. It combines aesthetics and passion; it makes us appreciate more than just the words inside the book but the overall reading experience. Sometimes I’ll watch the sunset and think about how beautiful my copy of Sirens and Muses would look in the golden light. Does this mean my appreciation for that book is shallow? It’s hard to believe that when its beauty reflects the story inside. If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate every aspect of the book. Watching people shout and jump in their bedrooms about books makes me more excited than ever to read. Watching people beam about their sticky tabs and pastel highlighters does not negate their credibility as a reader but intensifies my trust in them. Annotating has become a sacred ritual for book lovers. It immortalizes a moment you were so moved by an author’s words that you are willing to alter the book permanently. We take pictures, we shoot videos, and we record these moments to look back on how a book has changed us because it is magic. It is a magical experience to be immersed in words. Desiree Worrall-Belanger thinks annotations add to her appreciation of books.
"If you go on TikTok and look up #annotating, you will find over 262 million videos sharing the hashtag. Whether they be sharing their annotating systems, the supplies they use, or their annotations, these people all share two things in common - 1) they annotate, and 2) they read. It goes without question that while a reader is annotating, they will have to pause their reading to do said-annotating - whether that be to highlight, underline, or jot down their thoughts. To annotate something - whether it be highlighting a favorite quote or writing down your thoughts indicates a deeper understanding of the context. How else could you possibly attach meaning to that favorite quote of yours if you hadn’t read what happened before you reached this page? To claim that readers on BookTok are more interested in being “readers” rather than actually reading is preposterous. One reader simply has to share their favorite quote from a book, and thousands, if not millions, of people will respond without even having seen the book’s cover - because they know these words; they have read them. These people will interact in the comments, sharing their favorite moments, what they liked (or even disliked) about the book, because they’ve read it."
Listen, BookTok isn’t perfect. Like every online community, there can be negativity. BookTok can promote unrealistic reading goals, and on the surface, I can see why this author believes we only talk about “the same 20 books.” But with a little research and deeper exploration, it wouldn’t have taken long to see an authentic group of readers trying to find a space to talk about the books they love. And yes, we’re going to look cute while doing it.