Books

How TikTok's BookTok craze is 'making reading cool again'

Despite snobbishness in some quarters, book coverage on TikTok has encouraged a new generation of readers

Image: Matias North on Unsplash

Welcome to BookTok. TikTok’s book recommendations, reviews and releases have amassed 185 billion views, making it one of the platform’s most active communities. According to the Publisher’s Association, 59% of 16- 25-year-olds have rekindled their love for reading thanks to the trend.

This is true for BookToker Nicole Murphy, who has 42,000 followers on the app.

“I stopped reading as I got older. But when I stumbled upon BookTok, it seemed like a positive space and I started reading more. I wasn’t part of a specific community and thought it’d be nice to be part of,” she tells The Big Issue.

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“It’s made reading cool again,” Murphy continues. Addressing BookTok’s reputation for competitiveness she says, “Someone might say ‘I’ve read 30 books this month’, but they haven’t said ‘I’m better than you because of that’. It’s internal pressure people get from seeing this, like with anything online.”

There are hundreds of articles dismissing the platform for the competitiveness it allegedly fuels by promoting unattainable reading quotas and goals. GQ complains BookTok is “shallow” and has made being a reader more important than actually reading. Dazed speculates it has “sucked the joy out of reading”.

Signs are there. Some videos suggest “listening to audiobooks at 1.5x speed and skimming long passages of text”, while others show TBR piles (stacks of books that have yet To Be Read) taller than most people’s whole collections. But Murphy is quick to defend BookTok against criticism: “I urge people to spend more time on BookTok and look for what they’re genuinely interested in, not what they want to bash.”

Self-proclaimed “read for fun” Zoe Jane loves BookTok despite reading “only a chapter or two a week”.

“Some people might read 10 books a month but I feel just as much a part of their community,” she says. There is a neatly organised bookcase behind her, with hardbacks on one side and paperbacks on the other. “I haven’t read most of them,” she says. “They’re TikTok recommendations – I can’t wait to chat about them with others!”

Another unexpected benefit of this renewed enthusiasm for reading is that it’s providing a boost for bookshops.

“So many books become bestsellers after going viral,” say Leah Caffrey and Alice Treadwell, from House of Books & Friends, an independent bookstore in Manchester. “You can see when certain backlist titles are having a moment online and many trending books have stayed consistent in our weekly sales; sales which were certainly boosted by TikTok for some titles.

“BookTok has encouraged younger generations to read more and find an online community to share their enthusiasm with. This can only be a good thing. It is creating generations of future readers.”

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a member of The Big Issue’s Breakthrough programme.

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