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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Reading is cool

TikTok is creating a well-read society 


By MOLLY THOMPSON — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 


If you’ve never been on “booktok,” you’re missing out. It’s a subcultural corner of TikTok that discusses, promotes, reviews and whole-heartedly embraces books and literature; and it’s a lovely space to be in.

 As a result of booktok and other similar social media trends (ie. “Bookstagram,”), reading as a hobby has come into the center of the trend cycle in the past couple of years. Obviously, reading has always been a popular way to relax and pass time, and it’s likely that it always will be. But as the internet has risen in relevance, reading has declined as social media consumption has become the favored form of leisurely entertainment. In a roundabout sort of way, as internet creators began to make content about books, reading has come back into the limelight. The media that people have been consuming instead of reading is pointing them back in the direction of books. 

I, like many of my fellow victims of gifted-kid burnout (you), was a voracious reader as a child (I liked reading before it was cool). So it makes my little book-lover heart very happy to see reading for pleasure get the hype it deserves. 

One of the most appealing aspects of literature-centric online communities is the simple pleasure and joy that is shared between audiences as they interact over mutually beloved stories. The vast abyss of the internet is so full of negative and downtrodden content, which makes positive, inspiring conversations welcome. Bookish material online is dominated by a contagious enthusiasm for stories — a sort of joy that I haven’t encountered since I devoted my childhood summers to the reading challenge at my local library with fervent avidity. It’s refreshing to witness uplifting dialogue in the midst of a space plagued with controversy and hostility. 

It can’t be ignored, though, that the books typically embraced by booktok are not the most intellectual. While there certainly are pieces made popular by the internet that are quite profound and challenging, the majority of viral novels are easily-digestible rom-coms. But the thing is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. 

Allow me to get on my soapbox for a second please: the perceived superficiality of a book does not reflect on its inherent value. Of course, there is value in reading books that expand your horizons, teach you lessons and demand more effort — but that doesn’t demerit books that are just for funsies. Reading is meant to be an enjoyable activity. One of the reasons that people choose not to read is that it can be more strenuous and less rewarding than other available forms of content. If lighthearted, “fluffy” books can be entertaining, why shouldn’t they be celebrated? 

Reading for pleasure has been linked to stronger memory, better academic performance, mental wellbeing and even longer lifespans, as well as commonly cited benefits like increased vocabulary, critical thinking, conversation skills, empathy, etcetera. It would be remiss to dismiss the merits of reading for the sake of reading, regardless of what the content is.

I don’t care if you crack open Dostoevsky or Emily Henry, you’ll reap the benefits nonetheless. You’ll doubtlessly take away different conclusions, but they’re not meant to serve the same purpose. Reading can be productive, relaxing, stimulating, entertaining, enlightening, educational, rejuvenating and fun; consuming playful, bubbly literature can be all of those things in the same way that deep, intellectual writing can. 

In fact, it’s the fact that many viral books are lighthearted that has given booktok its flourishing growth. The literary community has long sung the praises of highbrow, scholarly compositions, but those who aren’t routine readers often aren’t apt to reach for a dense novel. More than ever, people are dipping their toes into the proverbial pool of fiction because the most popular books are easy and enjoyable to read. Booktok introduces people to the fun and benefits of reading, and once they pick up the habit, they’re more likely to venture into more challenging genres. 

Booktok is creating a welcoming environment for people to try their hand at consuming literature. It’s casting a fun and leisurely light on reading, and my hope is that it can reframe the “have to”/chore/homework mentality books tend to provoke, which turned so many people off for so long. Social media is opening up conversations for more people to join than they ever would have before, and it’s beneficial for all of us. Reading is cool. 


Written by: Molly Thompson — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu   


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