By this point, I think it’s safe to assume that most people know what TikTok is, whether that be the result of receiving the occasional funny video from a friend, making your own account to partake in the latest dance trend, or – like me – finally hitting “screw it” at some point over the last year and spending most of your downtime scrolling through the app and trying to ignore the news.
But I’d also hazard a guess that unless you caught a certain article last week, the bookish corner of TikTok may be one you’ve yet to venture into.
With over 12.8 billion views on the app, #BookTok has quickly become one of the most popular ways for the bookish community to present their content and connect with each other around the world.
“TikTok works so well for book sharing because the videos are quick, enthusiastic, and it’s very easy to interact with your followers,” explains Melissa, the Dutch creator of @melissasbooks. The short, snappy nature of TikTok videos lends itself to a different kind of bookish content than we’re used to seeing on the likes of YouTube and Instagram, where you’re more likely to find hour-long reading vlogs or beautifully shot images of enviable book collections than you are memes and sobbing reactions videos.
“Books I’d sell my soul for to read for the first time again”, “books that I read in one sitting”, and “books I stayed up until 3am to finish” are just some of the trending recommendations videos making their rounds at the moment. Several accounts also delve into the more comic side of TikTok by posting their – surprisingly relatable – interpretations of common problems faced by readers. These include “me trying to understand the world-building in a book”, “my reading obsession before lockdown vs. after lockdown”, and “trying to see how many pages are left of the book and spoiling the entire thing” – and I think we’ve all fallen victim to that last one at some point.
Arguably some of the best videos on BookTok, however, are peoples’ reactions to the common tropes and themes that crop up time and again in certain genres. Fantasy is particularly prolific – likely down to many of the creators on BookTok being young women – and as a result, you often get to see that what you perceived to be your own over the top reaction to situations like “when the enemies get to the inn and there’s only one bed” isn’t actually outside of the norm.
This ties into one of the main reasons for BookTok’s popularity; one Canadian BookToker, Isabella of @headinabook is all too familiar with. “I got into BookTok because I didn’t have a lot of people in my life to share my passion for reading with,” Isabella explains. Combine that with the isolation many of us have felt over the last year, and the temporary closure of bookshops and libraries around the world, and it’s not hard to see why the BookTok tag has racked up views into the billions.
Isabella believes one of the reasons TikTok is such a good platform for book sharing is the “super personalized ‘For You’ page,” which “shows you accounts with interests and tastes in books like your own, so you can easily find books you’ll enjoy without having to do much of your own searching.”
I discovered the effectiveness of the ‘For You’ page first-hand last week. As one of my favourite BookToks is where people show off a bookshelf half-full of wholesome YA novels from when they were younger, whilst a slightly hysterical voiceover declares “how did this… become THIS?” before cutting to the same bookshelf now crammed with seemingly the entire contents of the #spicybooks tag, it was inevitable I’d have to try out one of the most frequently recommended books I’d seen on BookTok: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout.
The first book in the series introduces us to Penellaphe, whose role in her society is limited to that of the restrictive figurehead of The Maiden. Veiled whilst in public, she is not permitted to speak to anyone, look at anyone, or go anywhere whilst she waits for the day she will be called upon to undergo her Ascension. This highly secretive process by which Lords and Ladies advance to the ruling social class (one in which membership is restricted to those with brand new pointy teeth, if you catch my drift) is painted as the pinnacle of Penellaphe’s existence, with her concerns for what comes after repeatedly brushed aside. Though suspicious of what her future entails, Penellaphe’s journey to enlightenment doesn’t truly begin until she’s assigned a new guard, the mysterious – and gorgeous, obviously – Hawke. You, like I did 100 pages in, can probably guess where this is going.
The predictability of the series doesn’t take away any of the enjoyment the reader feels. Though unlikely to win any prestigious book awards, the Blood and Ash series is genuinely good, and will almost certainly become many fantasy readers’ next guilty pleasure, which is a category of recommendations BookTok is becoming notorious for.
Regardless of what kind of books you’re into, there’s a corner of BookTok for you, where you’ll find creative bookish content, solid recommendations to direct you to books that may have escaped your notice, and a community of book lovers ready to welcome you with open arms. BookTok is here to stay, and it’s one outcome of the pandemic I’m certainly grateful for.
Words by Rebecca Harrison
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