By Cian Pierce
Last August, Amy Jordan, a London-based author, made a post to TikTok with the title “Books that left me heartbroken and shattered for days”. Set to the song ‘Je te laisserai des mots’ (I’ll leave you words) by Patrick Watson, the short video plays as Jordan holds up and transitions through a few books with a short comment superimposed over them. “Affected me more than anything I’ve ever read” for It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, “My heart [broken heart emoji] the end [crying emoji]” for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and “Crushed my soul” for The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.
Amy’s video, under the TikTok handle @amyjordanj, is one of the most popular videos under the #Booktok tag, a section of the video-sharing platform devoted to reading, sharing recommendations and reading lists has amassed 25.3 billion views and counting. Here, content creators post videos about the books they love, be it to discuss genres, plot points in specific books or to call out authors for misrepresenting minority groups. The tag largely revolves around the genre of young adult (YA) fiction, and it has been described by many as “the last wholesome place on the internet”.
But, is Booktok to be trusted? While Booktok can definitely be a wholesome community, nothing is ever so black and white and there are definitely some valid criticisms that can be levied against the community. I have already mentioned that the tag mostly promotes young adult fiction, it also dips into fantasy, the occult and “dark academia”, an aesthetic that revolves around classical literature, the pursuit of self-discovery and a personal passion for knowledge and learning. But at the end of the day, if you’re looking for non-fiction or something more theory-heavy, you’re better off looking elsewhere for recommendations. Another negative of the community is one that plagues TikTok as a whole. Ayman, a creator from Chicago, says that her experience on the app has been largely positive but she has had to deal with racist abuse on her videos. She told Refinery 29 “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 if you ask any creator of colour, they all have had negative experiences interacting with other users on the app or with the algorithm itself.
The Impact of Booktok cannot be understated, even publishers have started to notice the effect of the app on sales. In an interview with the New York Times, Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble, an American retailer, said: “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales – I mean tens of thousands of copies a month – with other social media formats.” Retailers all over the world have taken advantage of Booktok’s popularity to market titles popular on the app to customers by creating specialized shelves featuring books that have gone viral. “We’re identifying these trends as big opportunities,” Shannon DeVito said. “So [store managers] say, ‘Let’s create a table, let’s create a shelf, let’s create a statement because I know I have so many customers coming in saying, “I saw this trending on TikTok.” I can say from personal experience, walking through bookstores in Cork city, this idea of having a specialised table or shelf just for Booktok is a popular one.
But back to the question of are the recommendations trustworthy, are the books Booktok pushes overhyped? Because of the genre of the novels, the genre and flow can sometimes be seen as simplistic but that doesn’t mean they’re not enjoyable. TikTok novels are easy to read yet stick around with the reader for a while afterwards. Featuring numerous plot twists and heart-dropping moments, the books are great for anyone wanting to experience a bit of excitement from the comfort of their own home. BookTok isn’t concerned with page counts or prestige. Instead, it offers straightforward book recommendations that are generally well-received. TikTok’s book community is at its core, a place for recreational reading.
I reached out to my friend Cal (@calstheking on TikTok and @libraryofcalcifer on Instagram), a UK based Booktok content creator about his opinions and experiences regarding the community. While he has had a largely positive experience and reception on the app he said “I think the thing is, people and their opinions vary and so it sparks a very vast contrast between Booktok itself, not only is the community divided but it’s aimed for young adults by young adults” speaking on the more negative side of things he continued, “it’s a very grey area in the TikTok alumni, it separates both the narrative that you should follow a demographic of your own, but at the same time enforces a demographic where you are shamed for liking a certain genre and it ties back into this vicious cycle of bad social media.”
At the end of the day, whether the recommendations will be useful or not is a subjective question, but if you’re looking for some quick and easy to read fiction, you will most definitely find something that will pique your interest.