The final offering to readers for 2023 is a compelling and thought-provoking post from Lyndon Riggall. Are you a BookTok user?
Share a magic discovery or memorable find in the comments.
Whether you love it, hate it (or perhaps have never even heard of it), it seems that the online community of BookTok is here to stay. For the uninitiated, BookTok is a subcategory of videos on the popular social media platform TikTok, a service where users upload short clips that their audiences scroll through in quick succession... a mix of elements of other social media and content platforms like Instagram and YouTube. If you have been into a library or bookshop recently, you will indefinitely see the influence of these influencers. In my own visits to local retailers in the past few weeks I have seen many stands of “BookTok Recommends” in the doorway, while Libraries Tasmania’s Libby App features an entire section titled “BookTok Made Me Read It!”
In general, most would argue that the existence of BookTok is a win for reading communities, representing what is ultimately a short form online book club that encourages people to read and discuss their reading with insight, depth and complexity. That said, the community is also inarguably powerful (and some would say too powerful). Videos tagged #BookTok have a total of more than 205 billion views, while in the recent Goodreads Choice Awards, the voraciously adored TikTok darling and New Adult Romantasy (two genre terms that BookTok has also been instrumental in adding to the industry’s lexicon) Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros, beat second-place-getter Assistant to the Villain by Hannah Nicole Maehrer ten-fold (397,565 votes to 33,665). Even the very serious literary event of the 2023 Booker Prize livestream was hosted by 25 year-old BookTok star Jack Edwards. It seems that there is clear recognition that even the most highbrow reading events still need a real audience, and the organisers know very well where that audience is.
On a personal level, I find the BookTok community’s tastes to be fairly in-synch with my own reading. They like a book that challenges as well as entertains… championing such stories to devour in one delicious sitting and then re-read as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, and R.F. Kuang’s spectacularly = complex yet gripping Babel. While Penguin Books Australia has a strong—and at times hilarious—presence on the app, one danger is that Australian authors and their work feel a little like they fall into the background. The BookTok community are fans of Aussie writers Lynette Noni, Trent Dalton, Pip Williams and Nagi Maehashi from RecipeTin Eats,
but more often than not their most popular reads are consistently authors of the same ilk as a majority of their audience, and they will trend towards American writers even on this side of the pond. BookTok has been accused of toxic cultures of attacking writers (a recent reversal of publication by Elizabeth Gilbert, who announced a new novel which was considered by many responders to be culturally inappropriate due to having Russian protagonists, springs to mind), vapid reading habits, glossing over problematic story elements, and even elitism (“Oh, you’ve only read one book this month? Sorry, but you’re not a reader.”) One thing’s for sure: this phenomenon is not benign. It is impacting reading cultures, and doing so right around the world.
I think most of us have come to accept that social media—for all its distractions—is here to stay, and it is likely to remain a huge part of our own lives and the lives of our children. I very rarely accept that people “don’t have time” to read, but in a world in which the demands on our attention are myriad and aggressive, if BookTok sends someone to reading as a result of its existence, it’s hard not to see that as a win. I feel hopeful. While some of the criticisms of it are more than fair, the reading community that is emerging online proves that books are far from dead… BookTok recommends are a very respectable gateway to creating a reading wheelhouse of one’s own, and if you were stuck for what to buy someone this Christmas, a quick check of their age and what is getting buzz on BookTok certainly isn’t a bad place to start.
What a beautiful thought, that in an ever-growing corner of the internet there are still those who not only love books, but also share their enthusiasm for them with glee. I just hope that in all the excitement and noise online we can still remember that the heart of a reader’s joy is the same and as simple as it always was: those quiet moments of forging a one-on-one relationship between a reader and a writer, with words, stories and the imagination in the middle.
Lyndon Riggall is a writer, reader, and English teacher from Launceston, Tasmania. You can find him on social media @lyndonriggall and online at www.lyndonriggall.com.
Editor's note: What a great post to round off the year! I trust that the offerings this year have inspired your reading choices, encouraged you to cogitate, helped you appreciate the creativity and brilliance of our author and illustrator contributors and engaged your passion for children's literature.
Seasons greetings to you all! We will be back in 2024!