#BookTok: The Return of Reading

Ella Sharrers, Staff Writer

When you think of an educational resource, TikTok is most likely not the first thought in your mind. While the contagiously popular app is typically associated with dance trends, since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new group of TikTok users have united to form a community no one would ever think a social media app could do: bookworms. Also known as “BookTok,” this corner of the internet is reigniting a love of casual reading. 

It is fair to say that almost everybody these days has TikTok downloaded on their phones, especially high school students. For many users, reading is not common on their “For You” pages. So, what is BookTok? An article by The Crimson White says that “in 2020, BookTok, a nickname for the “side” of TikTok that is interested in reading and discussing books, became increasingly popular, with over 36 billion views. Users upload reviews of books, suggestions of books to read and discussions of popular books on the platform,” further writing that, “many students recall the social media trend rekindling their love of reading.” Many people, like junior Mila Kagetsu and sophomore Julia Wang, will tell you that BookTok is a great place for them to find new book recommendations. Wang also comments that BookTok is “a cute community of readers” where other followers of the media can form great friendships over these shared interests. Freshman Sammy Tayara also says that “the amount of LGBTQ representation in the popular books” really interested them. BookTok can be described as simply as a place to find new book suggestions, or as meaningful as a place for queer people to read about relationships we do not often see portrayed in popular culture. For Wang, BookTok motivates her to keep reading if she is “ever in a reading slump,” a “slump” being a lack of motivation to pick up a book to read — usually happening due to exhaustion or distaste for a book recently read. 

A multitude of TikTok creators have started specializing their content on reading, and some have even managed to make a living out of their platform. A popular type of video to make is a “trailer” for a book the content creator recently read, ranging from 15 to 60 seconds. These teasers often have the creator describing the plot of a book that you would most likely be able to read on the back cover of a physical copy, but in a more personal and verbal way of telling the story to entice potential new readers. Senior Aristotle Wilkinson assumes that BookTok became popular because “books do not have ads,” and “short 15 to 60 second videos about a book while leaving you on a cliffhanger about it will draw you in to read [the work]. Once you start, it is hard to stop.” Wilkinson makes a fantastic point — the fact that these BookTok creators are able to verbalize exciting moments of their suggested story intrigues so many viewers, it is almost impossible not to add the recommended book to your “To Be Read” list. 

Most of the recommended books center around the romance genre, whether it be a contemporary, fantasy, or period piece. BookTok has even helped launch careers for new writers, like up and coming author of “These Violent Delights” Chloe Gong, which is a thrilling take on “Romeo and Juliet” set in 1920s Shanghai — a novel that is now a New York Times bestseller. Another one of the most popular books on the app, “The Song of Achilles,” covers all the points new readers could be looking for, and has reached the BookTok audience far and wide. A novel by Madeline Miller, the story reworks and retells the story of Achilles and Patroclus of the Greek iliad. Poetic, romantic, and tear-jerking, this novel is popular for very good reason and is a great addition to a new reader’s bookshelf. An article from NBC News says that “BookTok’s impact on the book industry has been notable, helping new authors launch their careers,” as well as helping bring light to wonderful pieces of writing that did not receive attention when they were released.

Why, and how, did BookTok become so popular? With all that is happening in the world with the pandemic and otherwise, people have started searching for a different world to escape to. Wang assumes that “people were rediscovering past hobbies during the pandemic due to boredom, and a lot of people who used to enjoy reading got back into it as a way to pass time.” I can safely say that in the last year or so, I have found immense amounts of joy in reading. My favorite BookTok books so far have been “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid and “One Last Stop” by Casey Mcquiston. Mcquiston’s writing completely teleported me into a new world of romance and music from the 1950s and I was not able to put it down. Tayara exclaims praise for the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series, Wilkinson loved “They Both Die at the End,” and Kagetsu and Wang both adored “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.” Kagetsu emphasizes how beneficial of an impact BookTok has had on people, saying, “Reading is definitely a workout for your mind, so I think it’s great people on BookTok are encouraging others to read too.” An article from The Guardian, quoting BookTok content creator Faith Young (@hellyeahbooks), praises the amount of representation in BookTok by saying, “I think the biggest movement within the community is being like: ‘Hey, have you never seen yourself represented? Here are books that are going to represent you.’ I’m bisexual, and when I first joined, I only ever read books about straight couples. So finding these books that I saw myself reflected in was life-changing.” 

As a member of the LGBTQ community myself, the trending books on BookTok provide me with representation like I have never seen before. BookTok sheds light on many different marginalized communities, finally allowing those that have always been in the shadows of a white, Christian, cisheteronormative, and able-bodied society to receive positive attention. The audience this new community has reached is mind blowing and only continues to grow for the better. 

From cheesy, lighthearted romance to heavy, mysterious thrillers, BookTok has something in store that fits everyone’s tastes. It is hard to believe that a social media app could make this much of an impact on generations of young people, but with all that social media is able to achieve and spread, it is not too shocking that it could even be the driving force to introducing teens to hobbies other than scrolling. BookTok continues to spread positive messages about being different from your peers and, in the judgmental world of high schools and other social media apps, escaping into a fictional world is the safe place all teens need.