A Response to Barry Pierce's GQ Booktok Article
In reference to the article written here: https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/culture/article/booktok-tiktok-books-community
It appears that you have stumbled into Booktok blindly and with not only extreme prejudice and contempt, but a complete misunderstanding of how algorithms work. It seems that you have many questions, and many more incorrect perceptions, of what Booktok is and how it works, and I will attempt to clear these up for you.
You've made the mistake that many who have spent a whopping one day on the app and claiming to see the same 20 books over and over have made. A mistake that could have been easily rectified had you simply asked one of the many Booktokers for whom you show such scorn. The algorithm has shown you the most generic content in an attempt to learn what you like, and instead of swiping by in search of something deeper and more relatable to you personally, you lapped the mainstream right up. The algorithm therefore showed you more of that same middling content. Those of us who have spent more time curating our feed (as we curate our home libraries and TBR's) and building a community of "certified bookworms" with similar taste and values have found enrichment far beyond what the monologue of apps like YouTube and Instagram could have ever given us.
And that's the difference between Booktok and Booktube that you couldn't see from a cursury observation. Community. A group of readers who love and want to discuss books, not just monologue our own opinion into the void. A group of book collectors who have always existed, but have not had the pleasure of knowing and talking to other people with the same love and care for a personally curated home library. Many of us have found a beautifully diverse group of people with perspectives we never could have seen on our own, causing us to grow as readers, as authors, as human beings.
Its very interesting to me that while you express a frankly elitist amount of disdain for the Booktok community, you simultaneously take responsibility for its existence. The sheer audacity of deriding something at the same time as taking credit for it... well, it is such as we only see in mediocre white men. *Sigh.* Here I was attempting to write a response with polite disagreement, but I found that once I started typing I could not, nor did I desire, to "check my tone."
When you walked into a bookshop and saw a Booktok table, you probably saw the same 20 books that Tiktok showed you, the middling. And the reason for that is that someone at Barnes & Noble spent about the same amount of time you did attempting to figure out what was popular on Booktok. These are not difficult things to surmise, but
I find it very interesting that you refer to the collective 2010's BookTube as "wholesome," and possibly need more clarification on what that particular word means to you. The discussions of "the classics," a category historically written almost exclusively by white people, may be considered wholesome to some, but to any minority it is difficult not to see the hypocrisy in only considering the work separate from the author, and only considering the "great classics" as an example of what literature should be when it came primarily from people who literally owned other people. So many great works of literature have not been popularized due to issues in the publishing industry, and we've found that as a community we can overcome the Big 5 publishing monopoly by supporting lesser know authors and works - aka works publishers did not put any effort or finance into supporting. You say it's made millionaires overnight. I say it's changed the modern definition of "classic literature" to a better representation of the cultures and peoples of the world.
This is not to say that Tiktok as a company doesn't have it's own issues, such as the recent "heating" controversy, a practice of Tiktok overriding the algorithm to popularize (or depopularize) certain videos. Penguin Randomhouse has recently made a deal with Tiktok, you can read more about that elsewhere, and Booktok in general is not ok with a publisher invading our review spaces. But if you take issue with that, take issue with capitalism in general, not the creators who review books for free, not to make money, but to support the authors we love.
And of course there are people on Booktok who post reviews of books they haven't read, and authors who send their avid following after a person who rates their book less than stellar. Why do we see these things? Well, because we see people. You can't hide on Tiktok. After a certain number of videos, people begin to see you for who you really are, exposed and raw. So with the people who genuinely read and review books in the hopes that they can make a big difference for a small author, you also have people who still think they're on Instagram, posing a fake self for the camera. You take the bad with the good. Welcome to humanity.
I find it interesting that you chose to express your opinion of a social media group outside of social media. The thing about Booktok is that it allows - neigh it encourages dialogue, which allows us to actually learn from other readers. Not just demanding our opinion be heard without allowing for opposing views. Your opinion of us shows us more about you than it ever could about us. You're on the outside looking in, and instead of attempting to learn and understand, you judged. And most of what you judged was incorrect.
Tiktok is a mirror, it shows you what you like, what you want to see. So if what you saw was shallow and false, perhaps you should take a closer look in the mirror.
With sincerity and without apology,
The Tattooed Bibliophile