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BookTok content creator Victoria Pimenta’s shelf is always full of books ever since she joined the book community on this platform. Photo: Victoria Pimenta.

TikTok keeps readers posting (and talking) about books

Book readers on TikTok love the fun and feelings that books give them, says expert

By Jiratchaya Piamkulvanich , in City , on April 18, 2024

Victoria Pimenta has been talking about books on TikTok every day under the handle @viccsbooktok for almost a year now. Her first video was inspired by a romance fiction Things We Never Got Over by Lucy Score and a trending sound on TikTok.

Victoria Pimenta is a BookToker under the handle @viccsbooktok. Photo: Victoria Pimenta.

“I came across a sound on TikTok. I just thought that it was funny to use because it matched perfectly with one moment in the book. So later on I made a TikTok video to look like I was reading that page, and I reacted to it along with the sound,” said Pimenta, a 28-year-old book lover from the Greater Toronto Area who will soon go back to school for policing.

Pimenta is a part of a growing TikTok community called BookTok, where people use short-form video content to talk about books in a casual and playful style. BookTok became popular among Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s been going strong ever since.

According to a survey conducted in May 2023, 63 per cent of TikTok users in Saskatchewan reported that they read more books because of BookTok. In Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, the increase in reading activity was experienced by 57 per cent of TikTok users.  This is followed closely by British Columbia, with its share at 51 per cent. 

The features of TikTok, the standard practice on this platform, and its new way of talking and thinking about books make BookTok different from other types of book recommendations, according to Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo. They are the authors of the book Reading Bestsellers: Recommendation Culture and the Multimodal Reader, based on three years of research into readers’ behaviour in the era where online and offline media meet.

“It’s a short-form video platform. The content is easy to make because you can make it using a phone,” said Fuller. Rehberg Sedo added that ready-made digital templates are prominent features on TikTok. 

Arising with these easy-to-use features are expectations around production values that are much lower. This is in contrast to Bookstagram, a book community on Instagram where visual aesthetics are highly valued. 

“The aesthetic on TikTok is generally all about something a little bit rough. It doesn’t have to be polished all the time,” said Fuller. “On Bookstagram, there are certain kinds of ways of doing a flat lay for a book, or indeed, of putting yourself or parts of yourself into the frame.”

The features on TikTok also offer a new way of community building. Julia Wigdor, a social-media co-ordinator for the Young Readers division at Penguin Random House Canada, said that these set BookTok apart from the book communities on YouTube and Instagram. 

“TikTok has included so many different community-building measures, like being able to stitch and duet videos. This changes the entirety of a video and allows people to become part of a conversation, whereas on BookTube and Bookstagram, the main conversation that you have is within the comments section,” said Wigdor.

In addition to the platform’s features, Fuller said that the playful tone is unique to BookTok content. This jokes-ridden content is especially enjoyed by the young generation because they are the demographic who mostly cultivate this culture on TikTok. For example, Pimenta made fun of her own reading hobby by lipsynching to a TikTok audio: “Of all the hobbies we could have chosen, we chose the most expensive one. Afterward, she turned a camera to a shelf full of books.

DeNel Rehberg Sedo is a co-author of the book Reading Bestsellers: Recommendation Culture and the Multimodal Reader. Photo: DeNel Rehberg Sedo

BookTokers are not professional critics. They are engaged readers who want to talk about the ideas inside the books they love, said Rehberg Sedo.

Pimenta also posts bookish content on TikTok content for fun. 

“For now, BookTok is honestly more for fun,” said Pimenta. “Where it goes, it goes. If it doesn’t go anywhere, I still have my own little community of people that follow me. And I can just have fun with that.

Rehberg Sedo said that BookTok content focuses more on elements, such as feelings, stories, and characters, rather than on the traditional literary quality of the books. This is reflected in how Pimenta usually uses fanart of characters to talk about her favorite romance-fantasy series, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.  

“When I tell people, ‘Oh, it’s about a 19-year-old huntress who kills a faerie wolf, and now she has to go live in the faerie land,’ to some people, that doesn’t sound interesting. But if you’re showing pictures of a 19-year-old girl hunting, with certain music or sounds, and then all of a sudden, she’s like in this magical land, people are drawn to that. They’re like, ‘How did this happen?’”

Another BookToker on Vancouver Island named Michaela DeLong posted “If you like the vibes, but not the plot’”content under the handle @reading.michaela.kay. DeLong, 30, has been active on TikTok for almost one year while working for an Indigenous non-profit organization. The example she gave highlights the importance readers put on the feelings of the books. 

“I think that [content idea]  just popped into my mind because I had read one book by an author and didn’t really like it. And then I read another book by a different author: they felt very similar, but I really liked that second book,” said DeLong. “So I eventually realized that both books have similar vibes, themes, and feelings, but they have very different plots.” 

BookTok content also lowers the barrier to participation in book discussions and increases the appeal of books. Bookstagram and BookTube also play a big role in this, but Fuller said that BookTok is arguably the most successful because of its vast reach to people. The hashtag #BookTok now has a total of 31 million posts

“You don’t have to have an English literature degree to understand what people are saying on BookTok,” said Fuller. “The way people talk about books on BookTok is not pretentious to people who maybe got put off from reading in school.”

Lastly, BookTok does not play into the stigma around popular fiction. The platform also celebrates geekiness or nerdiness. 

“I definitely think BookTok is like a safe place, if you’re nerdy, to express those things and connect with people.” said DeLong. “It is a place where  I can go and talk about books and be as nerdy as I want to be, and people seem to like that.”