BookTok: TikTok Talks Books
By Josephine Ross
TikTok, the hit social media and entertainment platform, gained popularity due to its eerily accurate algorithm, its diverse user base and snappy, addictive short video format. As the platform grew in popularity, various communities within TikTok began to emerge. These different “sides” of TikTok are centered around a varied range of (sometimes rather niche) topics, “BookTok” being one of the most popular communities on the app.
BookTok rapidly gained popularity, even amongst users who may not consider themselves “bookworms”. Within this side of TikTok, creators produce diverse book-related content, such as recommendation videos with titles like “5 Books That Will Make You Fall in Love with Reading” or relatable literature-enthusiast videos like “Things That Bookworms Do”. Part of the reason why BookTok works is due to the pairing of TikTok, which could be considered Gen Z’s favourite way to consume content, and reading, an activity that many young people have set aside in favour of “easier”, often screen-based, media consumption.
Like most social media, BookTok has its pros and cons. I think it is important to highlight the positive impact of BookTok before criticizing it. This community is accomplishing a feat that schools, libraries, and other institutions have tried for years: an uptick in young people reading. Additionally, the community has impacted the popularization of formerly unknown authors, often promoting writers who normally would not receive a huge platform to advertise their new work. There is also something to say about the type of books recommended; I have seen far more references to LGBTQ+ literature than in any other privatized advertisement. Furthermore, BookTok has effectively connected a community of like-minded readers across the globe. BookTok has even had an impact on how bookstores market their new releases. For example, Indigo now features an “As Seen on BookTok'' section in their stores and online.
That being said, BookTok has definitely had some negative effects as well. For starters, if you make a habit of consulting BookTok for recommendations, you have probably noticed a pattern in the books that the BookTok algorithm decides to popularize. Recommendations that gain traction seem to be limited to YA, fantasy, and romance novels, most of which have been published in the last ten years. There is nothing wrong with this category of books, however, scrolling BookTok is not the most valuable tool if you are aiming to diversify your reading list. Whilst many creators on BookTok have used the platform to recommend their personal favourites, a pattern emerged of people recommending the same dozen books. Popular titles in these videos include The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, From Blood and Ash, The Song of Achilles, We Were Liars, The Midnight Library, and Normal People.
Being a young adult on the platform, I was not immune to the “hype” these books received. Eventually, I caved and read a handful of the much-appraised books. Whilst I did enjoy many of the novels, I found that some were rather overrated. In other words, my expectations for some of the books had been so heightened due to the volume of positive exposure that they received on the app that when it came to reading them, I was often disappointed. The most frustrating part of all this is that if I had picked up these novels without being promised that they would change my life or bring me to tears, I probably would have enjoyed my reading experience more.
BookTok is certainly a valuable community, filled with original content and passionate creators; we can attribute many positive effects to the platform. If you are interested in reading some “BookTok books”, Normal People and All The Light We Cannot See are two titles I enjoyed, although I will not promise that they will change your life.