Reading Goes Viral


Cooper Bass

English teacher, Brook Stivers stands with a copy of “Verity”, one of Colleen Hoovers most popular novels.

Cooper Bass, Content Editor

There is no ‘Ugly Love’ when ‘It Ends With Us’.

The new TikTok niche, known as BookTok, has been reshaping how young generations view reading.

On the social media platform TikTok, there has been a sub-community conversing over anything and everything book related all under the hashtag, #BookTok. From up and coming authors promoting their newest works to more experienced authors trying to revive past releases, everyone is going into a reading craze. There are even “BookTok influencers” who post various types of content ranging from book recommendations to literary dissections of the classics and everything in between.

“At the beginning of last year, I didn’t feel like anybody read. And then towards the end, I had several more female students that just came in with a book and I would have to tell them to put their book away,” freshman English teacher and English graduate Brooke Stivers said. “So I do feel like BookTok has become this thing that has encouraged younger adults to read.”

TikTok, an app that targets teens and young adults, has a specified algorithm that will study your activity on the app and narrow down your feed to be more personal to your interests. For those who interact with any post on the app related to books or literature, it will flag that as an interest and start showing you more and more material related to the subject. One specific example of this is liking on anything with the hashtag #BookTok attached to it.

“This year for my honors kids, they read three to four times a week in my classroom. They’re like, ‘Can I bring some from home?’ And they’re all books I’ve seen on BookTok,” Stivers said.
It can be speculated that TikTok has made reading into a trend and with that, Stivers feels like it has made kids feel less like reading was a mandatory school activity, but more of a fun hobby. “It’s not just like, ‘Here’s the cover, here’s your summary.’ Most of the time it’s just people talking about it. And I think when you hear other people talking about you’re like, ‘Oh, okay, that sounds good. Let me try to read that’ and so I think it encourages people to get out of reading slumps. It’s helped me get out of reading slumps too,” Stivers said.

The unique approach to spreading word about books on Booktok can be seen in numerous ways. From creators acting out scenes from the book to even assigning a ‘BookTok book’ based on your birth month, it has a definite unorthodox approach but has seemed to pay off.

“I don’t think the book industry was dead but I think it [BookTok] has definitely increased interest in reading. For some people anyways, not everyone. Like all things on Tik Tok, you still have to get yourself to that side of TikTok. So the people who weren’t reading anyways, are not reading still. But the people who were kind of interested in it, may have been pushed closer to it,” English teacher Cassidy Cook said. The rise in young readers is evident but the fact of whether or not it is pulling in more readers who otherwise would have no interest, has yet to be determined. To Cook, BookTok has not affected those who had zero interest originally because if someone is not interested, then they won’t like the right posts to make the algorithm bring them to BookTok.

BooksTok has not only been a gateway for budding readers but also for authors. It has acted as a very valuable marketing tool for new authors especially.“With this new generation and BookTok and TikTok and all of these new things, I feel like BookTok is great for those people really just because it’s new stuff. It’s getting these new authors and these new writers and these new novels and titles exposed,” Stivers said. For example Chloe Gong, who wrote ‘These Violent Delights’ amassed a large following on TikTok which led her to be able to get her debut book on the New York Times Best Sellers list. On the other hand you also have long-time authors like Madeline Miller who published her book, “The Song of Achilles” back in 2012 and initially ran for 20,000 copies. But after that book gained some traction on BookTok, it sold more than 2 million copies.

Using social media as a marketing strategy is not exclusive to authors, but also bookstores. One of the most popular bookstores in the US, Barnes N Noble, has taken advantage of BookTok’s publicity by making a display table specifically for popular book recommendations on TikTok.

“The book-tok table is one of our most popular tables, if not the most popular table, at our store. We always make sure it’s updated and stocked well so that it’s current. people love it because it makes popular books easy to find,” Barnes & NobleCafe employee Elena Illickovic said.

The table has become so popular that it is both in stores and online. When on Barnes N Noble’s website, there is a page dedicated to books that would fit on the BookTok table. “I do like the BookTok sections, because a lot of the time, it’s the same genre of what I like. So I always find that really helpful because then you don’t have to search for it. It’s just right there which is convenient,” senior Raegan Jackson said.

On the BookTok table and on BookTok itself, there is a noticeable similarity in genres of the books being discussed and recommended. Most of them seem to be Romance and Fantasy or a healthy mix of both. But there are some raised flags in some of the common content in the recommendations.

“It’s really interesting because the majority of people on book talk are teenagers, right? But the majority of recommendations I see are very sexualized. So it’s just interesting that that is what’s being pushed to teenagers. When I was a teenager, it was Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Divergent and Hunger Games. Now I see teens reading Sarah J Maas,” Cook said.

Sarah J Maas is the author of the BookTok sensation series, “A Court Of Thorns and Roses” or, “ACOTAR”. The first book of the series was published in 2015 and could be found in the young adult section in many bookstores and libraries despite its graphic content. Since the most recent release of the series in 2021, there has been controversy on whether or not the series should be categorized as New Adult. Maas has since labeled the series as New Adult on but this has not caught on everywhere.

“I think it has to do with the shift of young adults. It really became popular when I was growing up and the young adult population authors are moving with us. So instead of writing young adult novels for actual young adults, now they’re still writing for like new adults, but marketing them as ‘young adult,’”Cook said.

Born in 1996, Cook grew up with the young adult craze that is now going down as classics. When the world of Percy Jackson was being built and people were taking personality tests to see their divergent faction. Much has changed for teenage readers.

“I definitely agree that in recent years the young adult genre has jumped in sexual content,” Jackson said. Even with Jackson born later, in 2005, she still was ahead of the BookTok wave and was pushed towards books like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Magic Treehouse’ instead of ‘It Ends With Us’ and ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’.

Even those not on BookTok are feeling the effects. Illickovic gets her book recommendations from a friend of hers who is on Booktok. And Cook gets her fair share of BookTok time from her teenage students.