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Lit BookTube: the competitive anti-social book club

Mar. 25, 2021
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After reading all the cult classics from the heyday of dystopian literature, I needed book recommendations quick. Aside from my friends who have read the same books as me, I had no one else to talk to about books. I was also pretty shy and aware of “stranger danger,” so making friends in person or on the internet was a huge no for me. That’s how I came across BookTube.

BookTube is a YouTube community filled with readers talking about the latest books they’ve read, the tropes they enjoy, and the characters they swoon over.  It’s been a safe haven for me because there are people my age out there that are vocal about their obsession with reading—just like me. It feels like a book club in the comfort of my own home. It’s a breath of fresh air: unlike reviews I might come across in a Google search, there are faces and personalities I can match to the commentary of my potential next read.

I went down a rabbit hole of watching BookTube videos almost every day in middle school. I would be so immersed in a creator’s review that I’d immediately click to watch another video on the same book in a never-ending cycle of getting opinions and adding to my to-be-read (TBR) list. I also became super fascinated with book hauls and bookshelf tours. I’d spend hours upon hours watching people from across the globe show off their book collections, wishing that I could curate a library as expansive as theirs. After some time, I started to wonder—did I really want to read these books, or did I just keep seeing them in videos?

In a sense, BookTube has cultivated a materialistic culture. Videos are often accompanied by a backdrop of filled-up bookshelves; book hauls and monthly favorites consist of creators literally flexing their recent purchases and reads. It all made me want to add books to my collection, to fill my shelves with books to look “intellectual” and “cultured” like they do. With this came the desire to be in the loop, to read all the popular or fairly new books. It made me want to devote my life to reading—and to become a BookTuber myself.

But I soon realized being a full-time reader isn’t an option for me. The biggest factor was funds. It’s actually surprising how much money you can spend on books. Reading is an expensive hobby, especially when you’re trying to get special editions or find books in certain countries. At times, I’ve only been able to buy a book or two a month given my allowance. On other occasions, I haven’t even been able to buy a book I wanted because it was only available in Western countries. Considering BookTube book hauls usually consist of 10 to 20 books seen in each video, this content seems like an exhibition  of how much money someone can spend or how many publishing houses choose to partner with them.  

With this comes the debate of physical books versus e-books. Some BookTubers have argued that e-books are inconvenient, and they’re actually somewhat shunned in the community. I’ve also only seen a few BookTubers borrow books from their nearest library. BookTube consistently glorifies having personal copies of books, making it hard for people concerned with finances to be in the loop. It’s also a struggle to acquire books only available in America and Europe, as BookTube’s trending books mostly focus on Western literature, which may add more fees for those buying outside these areas.   

BookTube’s materialism may be rooted in the fact that books have only been accessible to wealthy people in several periods throughout history. Intelligence and culture were such a commodity in the Middle Ages up to the Renaissance era that it was a privilege to own a book, much less a personal library. Combined with the ostentatious culture of today’s social media platforms, it’s no surprise why members of the BookTube community like to show off their collections in videos. Just like BookTube’s viewers, it’s possible that creators want to prove themselves as true readers via the amount of books they own.

But we shouldn’t limit enjoying reading to being able to buy books. It would be ironic to gatekeep reading when it’s a means of learning and forming new opinions. It isn’t like someone who reads library books or e-books gets only half of the story or likes it only half as much. With everything going digital and people becoming more conscious of their expenses, especially in the middle of a pandemic, one’s chosen medium of reading houldn’t be shamed. 

The BookTube community was formed to foster reading. It should support readers from all around the world, no matter what preferences they have. The number of books you own shouldn’t dictate if you’re worthy of being  part of BookTube; reading in itself is already worth celebrating. BookTube should simply be a community that bonds over stories that transcend physical pages and libraries. Book hauls should encourage members of BookTube to read more—to discover a deeper appreciation for books and the worlds they provide us. It should be free of materialistic pressures.