It seems I can't go a single day without some article or tweet bemoaning the existence of BookTok, and I've had enough.
If you've never heard the term, BookTok refers to the bookish side of TikTok, where readers share everything from reviews to their favorite tropes to author recommendations. There's a seemingly never-ending number of videos that pop up on your For You page to discuss all things books.
Some of the dislike for BookTok seems to arise from a sense of superiority. Many bookstores now display popular BookTok books on labeled shelves or tables, and it's become something of a running joke to disparage this type of marketing. Is it because pretentious readers look down on the genres and authors popular on BookTok? Is it because they believe themselves above using the app itself? I don't know, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
This "end of the world" is actually a sign of the remarkable resurgence in reading. According to a 2022 poll conducted by the Publishers Association, a whopping 59% of 16–25-year-olds surveyed said that BookTok and book influencers "helped them discover a passion for reading." This is objectively a wonderful thing! That’s a huge number of young people who would not be reading right now if BookTok didn’t exist.
These readers are a boon to brick-and-mortar bookstores. Publishers Weekly reported that 27 million print books from BookTok authors were sold in 2021 and 47 million were sold in 2022. According to the Guardian, one sales assistant said, "I can’t stress how much BookTok sells books. It’s driven huge sales of YA and romance books. ... The demographic is almost exclusively teenage girls, but the power it has is huge." A literary agent said BookTok has increased the "appetite for romance and romantasy in a really big way."
Considering the genres that have exploded in popularity, I can't help but wonder if this is at least partially behind the condescending attitude. The invalidation of teenage girls and young women's interests is nothing new. But it's 2024 now, people — can't we collectively decide to leave all that behind?
Another widespread criticism of BookTok is the way it's potentially affecting the quality of some recent books. Now, I believe this is a much stronger argument than simply disparaging BookTok books as a whole. Some authors are quickly churning out books and reaching astronomical levels of popularity despite what many seasoned readers see as weak prose, major plot holes, lackluster worldbuilding, etc. As someone who's read fantasy romance for a very long time, I'll admit I've been unable to finish some books and series that were recommended on BookTok because they weren't of the quality that I've come to enjoy in the genre.
But some readers just don't care about literary merit, and that's perfectly okay! Perhaps they're so interested in the fast pacing or the characters that they can overlook everything else. Often, I just want a fun, fantastical read too. We shouldn't expect all books to be highbrow literature when many folks read purely for entertainment. The same could be said for television; shows like The Vampires Diaries and Gossip Girl captured the hearts of millions. Did they win prestigious awards? Of course not. But that wasn't their intention in the first place.
Despite all the positives of BookTok, there's one criticism I wholeheartedly agree with: The books most popular on the app are generally not diverse. There are a few white authors who reign supreme online, and while I certainly enjoy their books, there are so many talented BIPOC authors who deserve praise and sales too. Additionally, the books recommended are usually centered around straight couples, despite the number of incredible queer romances.
Thankfully, you can intentionally invite diverse content to your feed. Hashtags like #diversebooktok, #diverseauthors, #bipocbooks, and #queerbooks are easy ways to find the content you're looking for. There are plenty of people who recommend diverse books and authors, and they encourage readers to add new perspectives to their TBR (to be read) lists. By following and engaging with diverse BookTokers, you can curate the feed you want.
Because I've trained my algorithm, I've found the app to be an invaluable resource for discovering new books. From Tasha Suri's South Asian–influenced, sapphic Burning Kingdoms trilogy to Tracy Deonn's modern, Black twist on Arthurian legend in the Legendborn Cycle, there are so many amazing worlds and characters I might not've discovered without the bookish community.
While BookTok is by no means perfect, it's sparked a love of reading in a new generation and helped countless book-lovers find the stories that resonate with their hearts. I just can't see how that's a bad thing.