For better or worse, TikTok has become a social media force to be reckoned with in the past couple of years. Though the site has had its fair share of controversy, it remains one of the most popular online platforms for Generation Z and last year became the world’s most visited website. TikTok’s appeal lies in its accessibility, entertainment value and the variety of subcultures that have developed on the app. One such subculture is BookTok.
Reading centered subcultures have long existed on other platforms — BookTube (Book YouTube), Bookstagram (Book Instagram), and Book Twitter to name a few — but BookTok seems to have established itself a bit more than the others. Barnes & Noble even has a BookTok section on its website, and it’s not unusual to come across a BookTok display in a bookstore, featuring the most popular books among readers in the community.
Many users seem to appreciate BookTok’s accessibility and the opportunities it provides to discuss books.
“Seeing different BookToks allows me to find out about new books and see how [people] feel about it before I read it,” freshman biochemistry major Kennedy Nwosu said.
Because something like BookTok allows anyone with a smartphone and Internet access to upload and watch videos, it makes reading, once a solitary activity, into something that can connect people from across the globe.
Due to the trend-hopping nature of social media virality, there are certain books on BookTok that tend to take over the spotlight. One author whose books have achieved massive popularity within the TikTok community is Colleen Hoover, who writes romance novels including the popular It Ends With Us. Hoover’s work is controversial within certain circles, making her something of a polarizing figure despite her commercial success, but the love her books have garnered on BookTok is undeniable.
But some readers lament the homogeneity of the books du jour within the community.
“Based on my experience, I think the most popular BookTok books tend to focus on very similar narratives,” said Yekaterina Vakhromeeva, a senior public health science major. She has concerns about the lack of diversity in some of the most popular novels on the app.
However, other readers say BookTok has helped them discover new reading material. Afriasia Bermúdez-Crespín, a senior communication and English major, said BookTok has helped her find more diverse books to read.
“I personally am Latina, and of course, there isn’t a lot of Latina representation within authors, or even within books themselves, so hearing about other Black, Indigenous, people of color authors is like, ‘Oh wow, there’s more of me. There are stories that are being told that I can relate to,’” Bermúdez-Crespín said.
The newfound trendiness of BookTok raises questions about whether Gen Z could be turning back to reading — perhaps an unexpected development for a generation practically raised online. Maybe our society’s over-reliance on technology has spurred a return to the quiet wonders of reading.
“I think in general reading is becoming more popular, and BookTok combined with that, because we’re constantly on our screens … and so I think people are kind of craving time away from the screen,” senior journalism major Julia Eisen said. “I think it’s a good thing that people are reading in general … reading is a good way to pass your time and take a step away from your phone.”
It can seem counterintuitive for a short-form video app, typically known for destroying attention spans, to be spurring a new appreciation of books among young people, especially at a time when Americans spend an average of only 16.8 minutes a day reading. But BookTok is proving once again that the written word is destined to remain an important part of our culture.