BookTok: Is the sensation causing more bad than good? 

By Rebekah Froggatt

In the beginning of the pandemic, a community called ‘BookTok’ was formed on the social media platform TikTok. Here, people could discuss, recommend and get excited over books they were reading or had read; it was a pleasant community to be a part of. 

However, with the rising popularity of TikTok, it became the place for trends to thrive, and on TikTok, anything can become a trend. The problem here is with a lot of popularity, comes a lot of negativity, and influencers ran to this trend the moment ‘BookTok’ began to rise. Nowadays, everyone is reading, but do they really enjoy it? Or do they just want to be a part of the current trend? 

In 2021, I joined the community of BookTok. It was a small community, as not many people on the platform were making videos about books or about reading. I began to make book videos on my TikTok page, @tearsonthepages. Here I would express my love and joy for reading; what I was reading at that present time; books I wanted to read next; books I didn’t particularly like; and I would also talk about my favourite characters. It was a community where I felt welcomed.  

Unfortunately though, as time has gone on, 2024 has recently made me drift away slightly from the BookTok community as it seems to be filled with competitiveness, harsh comments and overwhelming pressure. 

I wanted to see how people also felt about BookTok, so I released a survey called ‘What’s your experience and opinion on BookTok?’ and over 30 people responded. Most people considered themselves a part of the BookTok community, with 60% of people saying that they only enjoyed it ‘sometimes’. One of the questions within the survey was- ‘Do you believe that there is growing negativity within the BookTok community?’, and 52% of people chose the option ‘Maybe- I haven’t seen a lot of negativity’, whereas 44% of people chose the option ‘Yes- it’s become a competition’. Only 1 person voted for ‘No’. 

It was extremely interesting to see that many people also believed that reading is one of many hobbies to become glamorised because of TikTok, as 48% of people voted ‘Yes’ in agreement to this. And this is shown all over BookTok as well. 

Reading and buying books has become the new trend. Many people upload videos of themselves rushing to bookstores and spending an enormous amount of money on books just for views. Some people even get their partners involved, making it a challenge of some sort, where they only have a certain amount of time to choose as many books as they want. 

The rise of the Book Youtuber has grown within the last year, where many have taken to filming lengthy videos of themselves doing readathons and reading challenges on YouTube. Despite this sounding harmless, in the past year many Book Youtubers have talked about the amount of pressure they feel to keep up with it all, in order to keep their viewers happy. Steph Bohrer, a 22 year old youtuber who began her channel by talking about books, said in one of her recent videos: “It was not an enjoyable reading year, and I was forcing myself to finish books that I did not like at all. It was starting to feel like a chore to read. I was getting a lot of recommendations off of TikTok…I wasn’t liking anything…I was just struggling”.

Exhibiting another problem with TikTok, the power of making everything seem like it’s worth spending money on, even when you don’t like it. I myself found 32 books on my bookshelf that I only bought because of recommendations on TikTok, and when it came down to reading them, they were not books I wanted to read in the first place. 

There are many books that gained a huge amount of popularity because of TikTok, and although this can be a great thing, especially for new authors or for spreading the word of a particular book, it can also be damaging for the reader and author. 

Colleen Hoover is a well known author on TikTok, having a successful career before the platform, her books have made the rounds within the BookTok community. At first, people loved her books, myself included, having read 6 of her books in one week. However, over the past year, many have taken to exposing her most famous book, It Ends With Us (2016), for being wrongly advertised as a romance. 

The book follows 23 year old Lily. Lily unfortunately grows up with an abusive father, and eventually ends up with an abusive partner, Ryle. She also reconnects with her first love Atlas, who tries to help her, creating this love triangle of fear and longing. The book has some very shocking and tough scenes to read, and many readers rightly have felt that the book being advertised as a romance is sending the wrong message. It’s also not keeping those who might find these topics triggering safe from the book, as the blurb is not indicative of the topics the book presents. 

In my opinion, I think it’s an amazing story of strength and bravery. However, I do agree with many other readers: it should not be shown off as a romance, and TikTok contributes to this problem. This book is known as a TikTok sensation, and many book stores now have these as sections on their shop floors. In my local bookstore, It Ends With Us was in the TikTok sensation section, and it was here that I bought the book. I had no idea what was to come from the book, but luckily enough I was at an age where I could understand and read the book safely. 

It’s rare for books to have an age restriction and I am not sure on how often bookstores do an age check with who buys these books, but it’s a scary thought that an impressionable 13 year old girl might pick up this book and read Lily’s story. TikTok is exposing children to sensitive topics that they are not at an age to understand, and bookstores are not helping either. It’s here that the sensationalisation of TikTok is dangerous. 

Negative comments have also become a result of books such as It Ends With Us becoming popular and favourite reads for some. Anyone should be able to say that they like a book, whether you like it or not, everyone has the right to love a book that they’ve read. Unfortunately for Hoover fans, they have become targets for many on BookTok. Some people on the platform have stated that “if your favorite book is It Ends With Us, by Colleen Hoover, that means you’ve never read a book in your life”. The immediate segregation towards people who like Hoover has grown very quickly since the critics called out the book, and it’s making BookTok seem as if you have to read a certain author in order to ‘fit in’. 

This is also apparent with the fantasy series A Court Of Thorns And Roses by Sarah J. Maas. This series is currently a huge favourite within the BookTok community, and having read the first book myself, I do understand why. Saying that though, I have often felt like I have a huge amount of pressure to like all the books within the series and if I don’t like them, I feel as if I can’t speak about them. 

I read half of the second book, A Court of Mist And Fury, and didn’t finish it as I found myself not loving it as much as the first book. I also found at times the book to be predictable and slow. In spite of this though, I will be giving it another try but have also fallen victim to the disappointment of fans who loved the book.

This is a huge problem on BookTok, fans of books are tearing down people who don’t enjoy the same books as them. Fans who hated the books are also tearing down people who did enjoy them. It’s become a place of competition on who reads the best book, but that’s the thing, there is no best book. 

Normally I share on my BookTok page what I’m reading but this series is one that I will definitely miss out on sharing, as I am worried I will become a target for many people on the app. I find that reviewing books is quite a scary thing to do on TikTok now, because there are so many people on there and most people nowadays don’t understand what they are saying over their phones, it’s almost like you put yourself up to be bullied. 

Reading and buying books has become an aesthetic. Who knows if everyone on TikTok that buys books and does reading vlogs is actually reading them. They might just enjoy heading to a coffee shop, sitting down with a book and an iced latte for the views and ‘vibes’. It’s such a strange spin on a hobby, and I believe that TikTok does this a lot with other hobbies also, such as baking, cooking, gym, dancing, poetry, drawing – who knows who actually enjoys it or if they are just doing it for attention. 

It’s creating a false look on what life is really like, and most of the time people don’t have the money or time to go to a book store and buy £200 worth of books. But are you a real ‘Book Girlie’ if you don’t? 

Overall, BookTok can be a really fun and pleasant place but over the past year, as influencers have joined the community and its grown a huge amount of popularity, reading on Tiktok has become a problem that needs to be discussed and sorted, otherwise I fear that many will begin to hate the hobby as a whole. 

One quote from me whilst I sub-edited this…

“I used to love BookTok, I used to have so much creative freedom, now it’s just a chore”

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