‘Book Tok and what it means to be a reader’ by Julia Pierzgalska

Since 2020, TikTok has been dominated by book related content, after Emma Chamberlain made reading popular again by posting a video ‘Reading makes you hot’ and talking about the benefits of reading on her podcast ‘Anything Goes’. Currently, the tag has over 100 billion views and strong opinions have come along with it.

One of the biggest concerns over Book Tok and its fast-paced trends and recommendations is the overconsumption of books. In general, this has become a significant issue with TikTok content creators creating microtrends that do not even last even a year before being called ‘cheugy’ (remember the Miu Miu microskirts and the Amazon corsets?) Grand bookshelf displays with 200+ books have become a common image within book communities As an avid bibliophile myself, I know it’s not a terrible thing to collect books. Many books hold immeasurable meaning to me and collecting them gives me great joy. However, buying and keeping books for the sake of being included in the circle of Book Tok trends not only strips away the pleasure of finding that one book that captivates your attention and makes you forget that it’s 3am and you have 3 hours to get ready for school, it’s also detrimental to the environment as four billion trees are cut every year for our paper needs. Some of those trees went towards printing books ( some of which aren’t even touched after bringing them back from Waterstones). Think of all the paper that could be saved by just not going to a bookstore every time Colleen Hoover releases another toxic romance novel.

Speaking of Colleen Hoover, another problem with Book Tok is the continuous popularisation of problematic authors. Collen Hoover is one of the 21st century experts on romanticizing abuse in her novels such as ‘’November 9’’, ‘’It Ends with Us’’, and ‘’Ugly Love’’. Hoover has been accused of being tone-deaf on social media after a colouring book of her popular novel ‘It Ends with Us’ was set to be released on 4th April 2023. Whilst the project has been scrapped, Hoover’s insensitivity to emotional manipulation and gaslighting has been noticed among readers. Hoover has also been criticised for her denial of her son sexually harassing a Twitter user @theonottlovebot.  Authors who turn out to be problematic aren’t new. However, the issue with Book Tok readers is that they deny that their favourite author is not as good as they present themselves to be. A YouTuber Caleb Joseph has shared on his channel his reaction to reading ‘November 9’ when he was 16. He did notice his harsh criticism but cited gaslighting from Hoover fans as one of the problems he sees with Hoover’s novels.

Book Tok has huge tendency to focus on currently popular books (such as Colleen Hoover, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Sarah J Mass). Whilst it’s not a bad thing to recommend books that are popular, it has become repetitive and so there is a smaller chance of finding an author with novels that have a chance of becoming the next bestseller. Not to mention other genres such as classics, poetry etc aren’t as popular compared to young adult and fantasy.. This also means that authors of colour, part of a community such as LGBTQ+ and other aren’t recognised and popularised.

However, there are also problems outside the Book Tok community. I have stumbled across a couple of websites such as Reddit that diminish Book Tok because classic literature is not a predominant genre that is recommended. Book Tok readers are seen as shallow and believed to be only reading for aesthetic purposes rather than to enrich their minds (which by those people it’s seen as it can only be done through reading complex and scholar level novels such as The Great Gatsby and The Iliad) Classic literature in itself is one of the very difficult genres to read due to them being written hundreds of years ago, the narrative structures, symbolism and using poetic writing that is full of imagery. For example, in Wuthering Heights Bronte uses a ton of complex language that many readers (including myself) found difficult to grasp onto and continue reading. For readers who are fairly new or are coming back to reading after years or even just months, it may be discouraging to begin with a 600 paged novel written a century ago. And so, Book Tok is a perfect place for new readers to explore fascinating genres and begin reading at a fairly easy level. It can’t be ignored that Book Tok is predominantly used by young girls and women. Therefore, could Book Tok being seen as superficial because women are being ridiculed and shamed for enjoying a hobby as a consequence of misogyny within pretentious male community of book readers and possibly even internalised misogyny from women as well?