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The DePaulia

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The DePaulia

“BookTok” is ruining literature

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Maya Oclassen

When I was younger, I was a huge bookworm. So much so, that it often got me in trouble in class because I would be reading instead of working on assignments. 

Eventually, my interest in books faded away, and I traded books for an iPhone. 

About two years ago, however, I got the urge to read a book — crazy, right? Really, it was. It had been countless years since I read a book for leisure, and any book that was assigned to me for school was nothing more than a chore. So, the fact that I wanted to spend my free time reading was something I had not considered since I was 8 years old. 

The book that got me back into reading was “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. After that, the love I once had for reading was reborn.

For book recommendations, I turned to TikTok, which had an up-and-coming community of book lovers calling itself “BookTok.” There was a lot of buzz around one author, in particular, Colleen Hoover. I decided to take everyone’s recommendations and I picked up one of her most popular novels, “It Ends With Us.” 

I sped through the book in two days. It was fast-paced, easy to read and it hooked me from the beginning. But when I went to the Goodreads app to share my thoughts with all of my three followers, I realized that while it was captivating, it was delivering a harmful message. 

I won’t give anything away, but it tells the story of a woman who falls for a guy and he ends up being abusive. The worst part is that she forgives him time and time again. 

This seems to be a common trope in many popular BookTok books. I admit I haven’t given many others of the genre a chance after reading “It Ends With Us,” but these books are targeted at a young adult audience, and they are teaching the wrong lessons. 

When Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” I don’t think she meant the tropes that these BookTok authors are playing into. Literature is just not what it used to be. 

I’m positive there were books before the popularization of BookTok that spread the wrong message. As time passes, we realize that some of the classics in literature are outdated and promote harmful stereotypes. But I would have hoped that in the present day, there wouldn’t be a whole community of book lovers recommending books with damaging storylines. 

I think there are far better books out there that are educational and entertaining and also do not promote abuse and toxic relationships. 

Julianne Buonocore, president of The Literary Lifestyle, believes that authors like Colleen Hoover have to play into these tropes because that’s what will be the most successful in sales. 

“Over time, we as an economy have become increasingly sales and product driven, and social media plays a large role in this,” Buonocore said. “Influencers drive sales, and sales keep companies, including publishers, in business.”

When thinking about it from a sales perspective, it makes sense to do what sells the best. But that’s exactly why I think literature nowadays lacks depth. If these authors are really only writing these books for profit and not out of enjoyment, then is it really an art anymore? 

This sales-driven mindset is nothing new with the rise of BookTok. 

“The world of literature has certainly changed over the years. While online communities are certainly a factor in that, they simply help push trends stronger,” said Graeme McGaw, founder of Book Notification. “The Jack Reacher series became increasingly popular in the 1990s for example. This led to more and more writers producing books in a series, featuring characters similar to Jack Reacher.” 

Surprisingly, I am not a full-blown BookTok hater. I owe it to the community for showing me some of my current favorite books and authors, and it’s still where I turn to sometimes when I need a new recommendation. 

As with all things, it boils down to personal preference, and personally, I’m nostalgic for a time when the arts such as music, fashion, and literature weren’t driven by profit and meant more than just money. But did a time like that ever really exist?

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