The Internet is great for many things, notably connecting us to other like-minded people from all over the world. Throughout my teenage years, as the one guy at school who wasn’t shallow enough to think books “weren’t cool” and because being friends with girls was a cardinal sin at the time (still makes no sense to me), I was alone in my love for devouring the latest series or spending time with my favourite characters. This meant I turned to the online book community, especially BookTube, to get my fix. However, in my four years with this ever-growing community, I have come to realise it’s not all as great as it seems on the surface.
The online reading world has its perks. I have received countless recommendations from YouTubers and Instagrammers and discovered some of my favourite ever books from these people. These are not books I would have found otherwise, as it was the rave reviews and incessant plugging that convinced me to pick them up, so for that I am grateful. Beyond this though, there are not many more positives to draw upon.
Whether it intends to or not, the online book community perpetuates really bad ideas and expectations for those involved, and this is where it begins to get toxic. My main problem from personal experience is that it all becomes a contest. I read purely for pleasure, as do most of those getting involved online, but watching someone read more books or read bigger books naturally sparks a little jealousy and competitiveness. One of my favourite YouTubers regularly reads 20 books a month, all of a reasonable size, which puts my yearly total of roughly 30 to shame. It’s hard to not feel inadequate or pressured to do better when seemingly everyone else around you is doing better and reading more, despite it being for personal enjoyment.
In a similar breath, having more books makes the reader seem more accomplished and attracts more attention. There have been ongoing discussions surrounding consumerism in the book community based on this toxic assumption, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the biggest book hauls are the most impressive and desirable. I would love to bring in 30 books a month and have a wall of books, but the student budget doesn’t allow for it, and I shouldn’t feel inadequate or less of a bibliophile because of this. This is especially prevalent on YouTube with the visual background of a huge and full bookshelf being a status symbol of sorts, and given we all love books it always makes the viewer envious. A lot of these content creators have full time jobs or income from their content which goes towards books, so a student like myself can never realistically match up to them.
This is when the book community and influencer culture become one and the same. The content creators that work with publishers and have the most subscribers become the faces of the community, and what they have and do is almost treated as a prerequisite to be involved. I certainly felt the pressure to buy loads of books to catch up, as I hadn’t heard of any of the books influencers were discussing. Many of those books remain unread years later.
To round up: the community can do more damage than good. Getting involved with the community really needs some resilience, and readers need to be self-assured. The number of books you read a month is good enough, what you read is up to you, and the number of books you own is your call. Your hobby, your rules.