Arts and Entertainment

BookTok: The New Age of Reading?

It seems that both readers and authors alike have fallen victim to the commercialization of literature on TikTok.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Sandra Lin

From news articles to entire bookstore aisles dedicated to BookTok recommendations, it is undeniable that BookTok has taken the world by storm. This subsect of TikTok rose to prominence during the pandemic, and has served as a space for creators to share, recommend, and discuss books. Since then, BookTok has exploded in popularity and has fostered an open community for readers. In recent years, however, BookTok has received criticism because the types of books circulating the platform have become increasingly similar, therefore losing the originality and variety that made the space what it once was. 

One of the most popular trends on BookTok over the past few years has been the Goodreads Reading Challenge, in which over seven million participants pledge to read a certain number of books throughout the year. While the competitive nature of the challenge was intended to encourage young people to read, many BookTok creators have stated that framing reading as a competition has turned it into a chore rather than a hobby. BookTok is criticized for often praising those who read the greatest number of books. One example is Haley Pham, a popular BookTok creator who read 110 books in 2022. By glorifying reading quotas, BookTok has created a culture that values the sheer quantity of books read over their content quality. 

This cutthroat reading environment has also created schisms between readers and creators on TikTok, with many readers frustrated that different creators repeatedly recommend the same books. Books like Twisted Love (2021) by Ana Huang and Icebreaker (2022) by Hannah Grace can be found on the homepage of almost every major BookTok creator. Since creators continue to recommend the same popular books to stay relevant, these recommendations have almost become disingenuous over time. Those who are not drawn to the books that fit into BookTok’s mainstream categories struggle to find creators who recommend books they will genuinely enjoy rather than just creators who recommend popular books. The target audience for BookTok is primarily young women, and the majority of the recommendations consist of stereotypical romance books that are often toxic. One example is Haunting Adeline (2021) by H. D. Carlton, which follows a girl who falls in love with her stalker. Other books like Icebreaker have weak prose, which is unappealing to many. Nevertheless, these books dominate the platform, which makes it difficult to find recommendations in other genres. 

Due to the platform’s sudden popularity, certain authors have started writing books with nearly the same tropes as those popularized on BookTok to stay relevant among readers. When Twisted Love blew up on TikTok in late 2021, Huang was propelled to New York Times bestselling author status. The Twisted series follows the lives of four friends who all fall in love with “twisted” men and who later overcome the challenges they face in love and life. Since then, Huang has completed the Twisted series and has written the Kings of Sin series, which initially received extensive praise from readers and quickly increased Huang’s social media following. However, the Kings of Sin series’s most recent book, King of Greed, was released only six months after the previous book, King of Pride, and was heavily criticized for its lack of depth and overall hasty writing, leaving many unanswered questions even after the series’ conclusion. The book’s plot revolves around a married couple who has lost their connection due to the husband’s workaholic tendencies. Creators commented that Huang didn’t delve into the characters as individuals, which led to a lack of understanding of their relationship. Others said that she could have spent more time developing the plot and lengthening the book to further the characters’ storyline. 

The rapid rise to and fall from fame of authors like Huang has led some to wonder why popular BookTok writers are losing traction amongst fans. It appears that both readers and authors have fallen victim to the commercialization of literature on TikTok. Authors try to write books that fit the tropes that TikTok pushes in its algorithm. This cliche has led to a decline in writing quality and style, as most of the books recommended on BookTok are not appealing to the vast majority of readers. 

While the rise of BookTok has developed a community of young female readers, it has also resulted in trends that diminish reading as a hobby. Though the platform succeeds in promoting new books, it is also critical for both creators and authors to remain authentic and recommend books of various genres and styles so that all readers have a space to be passionate about reading.