In Booktok's Defense
At some point in the seemingly distant past, the best place to find inspiration for something to read was on websites like Goodreads, or in the book review sections of news sites. Today, you only have to scroll for a few minutes to find hundreds of book recommendations, from fantasy to non-fiction and everything in between. Watchable, entertaining, and strangely addictive, videos under the hashtag “booktok” have racked up millions of views on Tiktok, as more and more people share their favourite reads. Tucked away amongst the dancing and questionable lip- syncing, “booktok” is surely one of the more wholesome corners of the internet. “Books that I would sell my soul to read for the first time again” is a popular title; whilst “books that left me heartbroken” is also a common theme (because we all need a good cry once in a while). “Books that made me fall in love with reading again” resonated with me most of all. As someone who grew up reading books and has grown older reading academic articles and emails, the desire to simply enjoy reading again is one which I’m sure many people can relate to. Ironic as it is, could Tiktok help us all to get back into literature?
Social media often gets a negative reputation. Admittedly, spending hours skipping through less than three-minute long videos is not a productive use of anybody’s time, as much as we might like to pretend otherwise. However, in the case of this particular side of Tiktok, it may actually be having a very positive impact. Around 50% of Tiktok’s audience is under the age of 34, a demographic that also has a lower proportion of people who read in their spare time. However, since 2020, there has been an increase in the number of young people reading for pleasure. No doubt a global pandemic has had a hand in this, but it’s clear that the popularity of book recommendations on Tiktok has also had an impact. Even booksellers and publishers are picking up on how influential the app can be. Browse the website of US bookseller Barnes and Noble today and you will find an entire section dedicated to books which have gone viral on Tiktok, testament to its influence on our reading tastes.
But what exactly are the books that have benefitted from the selling power of social media? Although some users have more unique recommendations, unsurprisingly there are some books and genres which frequently reappear in videos. Fantasy novels are some of the most popular––given everything that’s happened in the world over the last few years, is it any wonder that we’re looking for some escapism? Take Leigh Bardugo’s young adult fantasy, Six of Crows, or more recently The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake, both of which have gone viral on tiktok. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is another fantasy novel that has received rave reviews, with many people sharing their intense emotional responses to the final chapters. It’s not just new titles that are capturing the attentions of audiences. Many books that were published years ago have experienced a resurgence in sales due to their popularity on the app. It’s at this point that I have to mention Madeline Miller’s historical romance, The Song of Achilles, which you couldn’t possibly walk into a bookshop without seeing. Although originally published in 2011, winning the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, it has more recently received a huge boost in sales after going viral in a Tiktok video. Another, even older, example is the 1934 murder mystery Cain’s Jawbone by Edward Powys Mathers. A puzzle as well as a story, this book’s 100 pages are deliberately printed in the wrong order, and to solve the murders one must rearrange them. It would be fair to assume that multiple lockdowns have probably had something to do with the fact that many people have spent their time turning their walls into murder boards in an attempt to solve the mystery.
Whether you love it or loathe it, there’s no doubt that Tiktok has had a huge impact on many aspects of our lives, from the music we stream to the books we see in the windows of booksellers. A single viral video has the power to catapult a book to the top of the bestsellers list. Even more importantly, it could inspire someone to pick up a book for the first time since childhood. There is a reason why the books that are so popular on Tiktok are fiction novels, stories which can make us laugh or break our hearts. These are the books which can do what no article or academic text ever could, to make us fall in love with reading again.