BookTok: Helping a Generation Rekindle its Love for Reading
I remember the first time I went to the school library in first grade. Now, having grown up in a family of ravenous readers, this was not my first time in a library. But somehow, the school library was even more magical than the public ones, and I fell in love with it. The magic continued, and my love for the atmosphere of libraries grew in middle school, as did my love for reading and trying new genres.
Summer reading assignments began the summer before 7th grade, the first year of middle school in my school district. That first year, I chose Ender’s Game off the assigned reading list; the book had just been turned into a movie, and it sounded interesting enough. Almost immediately, my interest turned to indifference, and I hated that I had to read something off a list that summer. To this day, I cannot tell you what Ender’s Game was about, but when asked if I liked it, my answer is, “No, not at all.”
In talking to other people in their early 20s, I find that many of us had this similar experience of intrinsically loving reading when we were little, then learning to hate it as we continued through our school system. I have had so many friends say to me, “I wish I still liked reading,” and though I personally never stopped reading for fun, I went through a significant period where I did not want to read, I just felt like I should. And for so long, it seemed like maybe the time for us to be enthralled by the magic of libraries and the smell of new books was over. Then, there was BookTok.
BookTok is the side of the popular video sharing app TikTok where avid readers share book recommendations as well as reviews about their recent reads. The TikTok algorithm is impressively good at showing content to the audiences it was made for, and BookTok content is no exception. I found out about BookTok from Haley Pham, a popular YouTuber, who began trying to achieve the “dark academia” aesthetic in mid-2021. I watched Pham’s video about books she planned to read based on TikTok recommendations, and after I listened to the descriptions of some of these viral TikTok recommended books… I had to see what all the excitement was about.
I started my BookTok journey by reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and while yes, I had never stopped reading for fun, reading this viral book was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It wasn’t a book I would have chosen off of the shelves for myself if I had not seen it recommended so many times, but I had fun reading it. I tried more book recommendations: Beach Read by Emily Henry, Outlawed by Anna North, and The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I loved each one of them, and I loved the way I felt transported into the stories; I was falling back in love with reading, the magic was coming back.
Our public school system, admittedly flawed in many ways, tried to encourage reading. I have no doubt that they thought that requiring specific books for summer reading was a great way to help students cultivate their love for it. However, it had the opposite effect. I believe the thinking behind the summer reading curriculum was to encourage us to look up from our iPods and Xboxes and read something instead. In an ironic turn of events, it’s been a social media platform that has helped Gen Z rekindle their love for reading. After countless hours of scrolling and swiping, we have rediscovered how fun reading can be.
When we first started reading, it was not because we had to do an assignment for school; it was not because we were forced to. It was because it was an activity that we enjoyed, that transported us to new worlds and lives. But then it became a chore, and it wasn’t exciting anymore. It seems now, though, in our age of Pinterest boards and cultivating aesthetically pleasing lives for ourselves, that reading is exciting again. Not just because it fits our dark academia, Rory Gilmore-esque aesthetic, but because it’s comforting. It’s now not only a way to relax, but to also escape our worlds and enter new ones, and a way to reconnect with our inner child. To fall back in love with the magic of books and unlearn the mentality that public schools ingrained in us about reading.
I was skeptical that BookTok would help me love reading again, but it genuinely has. If you have thought to yourself lately, “I wish I still liked reading,” I encourage you to take a look at the BookTok hashtag and begin to love reading again.