If you were starting to think that social media was filled purely with angry people shouting at one another for no reason, you wouldn’t exactly be wrong. But thankfully, in the depths of TikTok, there is a wholesome place reigniting faith in the internet. The name of this magical world? BookTok. A sanctuary for literature lovers of all kinds, the #booktok tag currently has over 4.4 billion views as creators discuss their favourite reads through video reviews, recommendations and book nerd memes.
The tag largely centres around YA fiction, although there is a sizeable Harry Potter community for the skinny jean-wearing millennials among us. Taking in dystopian franchises, romance novels and period adventure series, the video trends include creators discussing plot points and character developments and even calling out authors for misrepresenting minority groups. A-level English it is not. And if you've ever struggled to know what to read next, BookTok's dramatically named reading lists vary from "books that had me sobbing at 3 am" to "books I would sell my soul to read again".
For many users, this wholesome atmosphere was a massive incentive to join the community. "I created my book account because I was longing to find a connection with people about something I am super passionate about," says Luz, a 20-year-old BookTok creator from Louisiana. "None of my close friends read in their spare time so I took it upon myself to ignore my social anxiety and create an account where I could finally talk about the books that have changed my life," she explains. For other creators, BookTok has acted as a platform to call for progress in the literary world, a place where they are able to push for the inclusion and development of young queer characters. "I like to think that people follow me due to our shared goal of diversifying books," says 16-year-old Faye, who regularly creates LGBTQ+ content.
Unsurprisingly, such a supportive community has led to many book lovers forming friendships IRL, which has been increasingly essential during the ongoing pandemic. "I’m in a group chat with five other British BookTokers and their friendship this year has been amazing," says Brittany, 21. "We Zoom every week, give each other advice and always support each other’s content. There honestly isn’t a single person I’ve interacted with in the TikTok book community who hasn’t been completely welcoming and friendly," she adds. This level of friendship also extends to a culture of gifting. "A lot of us have our book wish lists in our bio and we often send books to each other," says 16-year-old British BookToker Kate.
As with any internet creation, the community isn’t totally without its negatives. Ayman, a 20-year-old creator from Chicago, says that her experience on BookTok has been largely positive although, sadly, she has had to deal with xenophobic abuse on her videos. "There are occasional Islamophobic comments but instead of interacting with them I just delete them," she says, adding: "It’s hard for it not to affect me but I try to remind myself at the end of the day, it’s just a person behind a screen who probably doesn’t know better." TikTok claims to have strict community guidelines about what it allows on the platform to protect users but as the app has grown exponentially over the past year, more people are reporting negative experiences.
For other members of BookTok, their experience thus far has been thankfully (mostly) troll-free. "Luckily, I have never received any hate towards me or my content," says Luz. "Sometimes people might disagree with others' opinions but, most of the time, the conversation is more civil than hateful, which I’m really happy about." Brittany agrees and says her experiences of negativity are few and far between. "It’s very rare. If a video ends up on the non-bookish side of TikTok you can get some silly comments like 'Haha people read?!' but it’s generally pretty light-hearted."
For those wanting to step into the world of BookTok, there is a string of much-mentioned popular titles which you should probably get to know before heading in (including Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout and The Cruel Prince by Holly Black). If you pick only one fictional series to learn about ahead of time, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is probably your best bet. "I’ve never been surrounded by a series that’s been more analyzed in the book community," says Ayman, adding that "the fandom can be very obsessive". There are books for older audiences, too. "My followers range from 13 to 30 years old," says Aaliyah, an 18-year-old BookTok user from Australia. "I try to please everyone in my audience so I’ll dedicate some videos targeted at specific age groups but try and make most of my content suitable for everyone."
As one of the best places to discover new books by young female authors, BookTok looks set to only increase in popularity — especially now that the writers themselves are joining the community to discuss their creative process. Among them are author of The Last Goodbye, Fiona Lucas, fantasy writer and author of Stolen Sun, Eli Hinze, and romance novelist and author of All I've Never Wanted, Ana Huang, all of whom use the platform to share writing tips, answer narrative questions and even discuss practical steps to entering the literary world as a professional author.
A perfect mixture of dark academia and the Tumblr fanfiction scene, BookTok is a haven for serious book fans and a much-needed escape from the doom and gloom of lockdown. If you're looking for somewhere to go and lose hours of your day analysing new worlds and dissecting character traits, BookTok is the place for you. Because if you're going to spend time scrolling on your phone, you might as well make it wholesome.