The #BookTok effect: reading in a digital age

People are finding book reccomendations at the library, from friends... and on TikTok

Peace signs and personal interests: Matthew Powell, left and his friend Brian Chung, right, inside Stan Grad on the SAIT campus in Calgary on Monday, February 5, 2024. Powell and Chung are business students at SAIT. (Photo by Pearl Nkomo/The Press)

Reading books is a fundamental part of people’s day-to-day lives — whether it’s realized or not — in the digital age.

An article published by SEO-Writer found that 23 per cent of Canadians read over 20 books in 2022.

With the rise of social media hashtags focused around readers and their interests, that number to expected to rise.

Over the summer, BookTok – a subcommunity of TikTok focused on reading  – saw a huge rise in interactions after several scandals went viral. Among these scandals is the collapse of the relationship between NHL team Seattle Kraken, and TikTok user Kierra Lewis, a ‘BookTok-er’ who specialized in recommending sports romance books — particularly hockey romances.

The team and Lewis had a symbiotic relationship for a while, with Lewis being invited to hockey games and practices, but ultimately this relationship eroded when Lewis’ posts – which often featured explicit language around the players and their looks – caused a player’s wife to speak out about boundaries.

Many ‘BookTok-ers’ either sided with Lewis, or stated that they were not a part of the incident and that it wasn’t representative of BookTok as a whole.

Is BookTok just a hashtag on TikTok for people to discuss books? Or is it something more indicative of what people are using to find their books?

Malikai Woode, a University of Calgary film student, talked about their own experience with BookTok when interviewed in Kensington near a local bookstore, Pages on Kensington.

Gems and Genres: Malikai Woode outside Higher Gem Market in Kensington Calgary on Friday, February 2, 2024. They are a film student at the University of Calgary. (Photo by Pearl Nkomo/The Press)

“Most of what I’ve seen of BookTok is either people who are just genuinely discussing books and then there’s all of the creators who make sounds or videos that play to the more spicy sides of people’s book interests,” said Woode.

“I’m not so much sure about genres,” they continued. “I’m very picky on what creators on TikTok I follow and what-not. I’ve definitely run into the more consensual romance (books). Far from a lot of the romances that most people read, where authors are taking consent seriously, and expressing how mental health and trauma present in a genuine setting rather than these tokenized ideas of what that [consensual sexual relationships] look like.”

For other people, their experience with BookTok and the book side of social media is limited to none.

“I’ve come across it, you know, going through TikTok and Instagram, I’ve come across the hashtags and stuff,” said business student Matthew Powell. “I also follow a few creators who do talk about books, but it’s more for other interests than other topics. I’m not really big into that section – BookTok, specifically.”

For some students, reading isn’t something they do unless they have to. For Dhairya Dave, a petroleum engineering student, reading is something he only does for class. His interaction with the book side of social media is limited as well.

“I’m not really a geek when it comes to the books,” said Dave. “I do use social media. But I’m not really a big fan of going through books, because that’s the kind of interest that you are supposed to develop when you are young. Once you start to grow up, you just start to lose touch with that and you just start to consume the content which consumes less time. Like videos and stuff.

“With the books and all, I think it’s going to take more time.”

Fabiana Abril, a bachelor of science student, shared similar sentiments.

“I don’t really read,” she said laughing while looking at her friend, “But when I have, I find my books in the library.

“I really like novels, that’s sort of my niche. If I have to read that’s the genre of books that I’ll read.”

For other students, their love of reading has brought them to interesting places.

“When it comes to books and finding the best books possible, I usually go towards classics and books that have their reputation precede them, so I don’t typically gain my next book from sources like social media,” said electrical engineering student Christ Dowsett. “But you know, I’d be open to it.

“A good book is a good book, no matter how.”

Smiling Faces: Chris Dowsett inside Johnson Cobbes on the SAIT campus in Calgary on Monday, February 5, 2024. He is a petroleum engineering student at SAIT. (Photo by Pearl Nkomo/The Press)

When asked about his knowledge of the romance genre, Dowsett says, “Truthfully, I don’t read a lot of fiction. I can read more non-fiction, but if I were to read fiction, it probably wouldn’t be romance.

“For dark romances? It’s going to be in the fiction sphere and then it’s going to have some kind of set of conflicts. Maybe something that’s an antagonistic conflict or something like that.”

Overall, books and reading are something that people interact with daily. Maybe you find all your book recommendations on BookTok, maybe you go to the library to find them.

Ultimately, what you read is up to you.

About Pearl Nkomo 4 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Pearl Nkomo is working as a writer for The Press in 2024.