TikTok’s community of readers

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

When I reflect on why I use TikTok, admittedly, an academic resource is not a motive that comes to the forefront.

Instead, I spend my time on the app seeking content that will help me decompress — which tends to manifest itself as a cesspool of comedy and cat videos. However, as of late, the “BookTok” community has become a prominent aspect of the social media platform. 

Within this facet of TikTok, creators utilize their following to highlight books they love — or hate — through 60-second skits, summaries or reviews. It is fair to say that, in recent years, reading has taken a backseat to television and video games, but the upsurge of this subcommunity has gone beyond the bounds of TikTok. 

It has made a positive, tangible impact on book sales, publishing agencies and authors. In most Barnes & Noble stores, you can find a section dedicated solely to books frequently featured on the app.

I can attest that, prior to BookTok landing on my “For You Page,” I felt very little enthusiasm toward reading. Instead, it felt more like a chore. 

After years of being assigned mandatory texts — “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Frankenstein”, just to name a few — I did not wish to spend the little free time I had engrossed in a book. However, seeing young adults like myself so enamored with a piece of literature reminded me of the love I once had for it. 

Since then, I have rekindled my affinity for reading. In fact, I spent essentially the entirety of this past summer with my nose in a book — the 40 books I logged on Goodreads within a span of three months can vouch for me. 

As a side note, I will note that my favorite books I read during that period include “Open Water” by Caleb Azumah Nelson, “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi and “Alone With You in the Ether” by Olivie Blake. 

Having said that, the popularization of BookTok is not entirely a positive thing. BookTok influencers tend to promote a very particular type of novel, with that being the young adult romance genre.

Though this genre is not necessarily bad, as I have read my fair share, some of the authors and books that readers have chosen to emphasize are mildly controversial. I take issue with one author in particular, and I do not think my answer will be shocking to most: Colleen Hoover. While I am happy to see an author succeed, her works tend to rub me the wrong way. “It Ends with Us” is her most popular publication, though it is arguably her worst one yet. I find that she and the rest of BookTok advertise it to be a story surrounding a wonderful romance but, if you decide to read it, it becomes abundantly clear that it is not.

Instead, the story of a young flower shop owner by the name of Lily Blossom Bloom — incredibly corny, I know –— and her surgeon husband tends to glamorize and glorify sensitive subjects like sexual violence and abuse. 

In my eyes, Hoover utilizes the topic for shock value rather than authentic awareness. Moreover, it seems to me that all of her works are saturated with depictions of women that are reliant on affirmation from their male counterparts —  which is undoubtedly awful.            

Despite my dislike for her, Colleen Hoover is not the only party at fault when it comes to the intrinsic pitfalls of BookTok. The books that creators recommend become increasingly redundant, as most feature heterosexual, cisgender white experiences with the same overused tropes.

It is clear that, with the recent rise of the reading community, the public must urge for proper and diverse depictions of the human experience just as they’ve been trying to do for other various forms of media. 

Thus, while I do maintain that BookTok is a useful introductory tool for those trying to get into or get back into reading, it is not something I would be reliant on for an extensive period of time. The platform has taught me a lot about my preferences as a reader — like the fact that I enjoy literary fiction the most — and now that I know what I like, I refer to it significantly less for my reading choices.