During the infamous lockdown period, most of us revisited our hobbies.
Between Zoom calls and learning new viral dances, we picked up some knitting projects, banana bread recipes, and a favorite pastime — reading.
Reading seems to have stuck with us, unlike our forgotten choreography and unfinished scarves. But, why?
Let’s talk about TikTok. Some may call it “the problematic app,” and others might describe it as their survival kit during the pandemic. Initially, lip-synched covers and dances; the more people who joined, the more the app diversified its content. Like other social media platforms, TikTok engages a fancy algorithm that tracks what you “like,” who you follow, how long you linger on a specific video before scrolling, and other methods to their virtual madness.
However, that’s how some of us started reading again, landing on this thing called BookTok. Actually, not some of us, a lot of us. How did this hobby make its comeback?
These days, you can’t walk into a bookstore without strolling past a table with a little placard that reads “BookTok.” The offerings on these tables range anywhere from easy beach reads to people missing in foreign countries. BookTok has enveloped all genres. It’s made some genres that were uncool mainstream again. These Instagram accounts feature stacks of “recently read” and recommended book posts for their audience. They are usually accompanied by a shot of their manicured hands, white string lights for a fairytale aesthetic, and perfect stage lighting from their ring light.
It’s made the idea of reading so fun again. And social media users are deeply involved in the posts, commenting as if they’ve read every book recommended. Reading is no longer cliche for nerds, academics, or high-brow, voracious readers anymore. The good thing about BookTok is if you want to read it, you can find it (or it will find you).
In my own experience, it has widely expanded my reading. Though I have always read a lot, these accounts have guided me past my prejudices to try new genres and themes. Before I was stuck inside current events and nonfiction history, I have now broadened my appetite for murder mysteries, autofiction, and leisure beach books. The influence of social media has allowed me to break down my mental barriers about how I quantify a waste of my time and my money.
Thankfully, it’s also reincarnated a reading community despite the mammoth presence of Amazon and how its access to every book has shut down many of our local bookstores. Even newer formats, such as the e-reader and streaming audiobook apps, have emerged. There’s a sense that reading is more accessible, And since more are participating, there’s something new to discuss with friends than the political chaos of the day.
Yes, BookTok is “influencing” the masses, but it’s at least influencing in a healthier way.
Unlike unregulated diet supplements or beauty creams, reading isn’t dangerous. At their worst, these Instagram accounts get perks with advanced copies where the author hopes they’ll receive a 5-star review.
From my perspective, the algorithm of “BookTok” doesn’t feel like a nefarious corporate machine. It feels like it’s curating a community of people who want to read good and interesting things. This social media section may be more thoughtful than we’re used to in our polarizing times. Perhaps we should invite this kind of influence into our social feeds and not be quick to shelve it.