Book Club With a Side of BookTok

An exploration of the rise of BookTok and its reception by UofSC's book club

by Zane Heinlein / Garnet & Black

BookTok: a familiar term for frequent TikTok users, which is 58% of Gen Z. Users might have scrolled past TikToks with people recommending books based on genres and popularity. On the other hand, a vast majority has diverted their attention to these TikToks and genuinely starting loving these books. Notion book lists and Barnes & Noble book runs are common verbatim on TikTok now.

Books released almost a decade ago are gaining another wave of popularity through TikTok.  "Song of Achilles" and "We Were Liars", released in 2012 and 2014 respectively, have entered the best seller’s list again.

Now, you see a “#BookTok” section at your local Barnes & Noble, and it's completely normal. 

Trends aren't simple obsessions that last a couple of weeks without any impact.  Trends can't be ignored or disregarded because they're popular on an app that influences people and their interests. There have been several accounts of people regaining their love for books after years or just becoming interested in them. 

A new wave of readers are enticed by short TikToks. This change has been seen not just outside of the app and at bookstores, but at UofSC’s own beloved Book Club. 

"It's a shocking shift in conversation,"  Alisa Berindea, the President of the Book Club, said about the sudden change from GoodReads to BookTok. "Before this year, and before TikTok, the most popular app among our members was GoodReads and that was the app most often mentioned at meetings." GoodReads is an app that held popularity among readers for being able to discover new books and view what their friends were reading. The newer members of the club have shifted away from GoodReads and use BookTok almost religiously.  

Meeting once a month to discuss the books, the Book Club members engage in discussions and provide further recommendations. Anyone interested in the Book Club should check out their instagram account, @uofscbookclub. Discussions usually take place in small groups so everyone can participate and share their thoughts about the books. Miller Smoak, the Secretary of the Book Club, said the club has read "Song of Achilles", "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue", "Normal People" and many more. These are all titles that are extremely loved by the BookTok community.

Berindea explains how they don’t explicitly search for books on BookTok, but the recommendations come through the members who have read them.

So, what are the consequences of BookTok's popularity?

Berindea said members that were more aligned with BookTok seemed to take an extra interest in sci-fi, fantasy, and YA fiction. These genres are leading in the TikTok algorithm. 

Does the community’s love for certain genres limit the exposure readers get to other genres, such as classics, crime, etcetera? The focus and popularity of genres, like young adult fiction, does dwindle the attention given to other genres that aren't equally popular. It's rare to watch a Tiktok that recommends mystery or crime books, unless it is part of a popular trope, like enemies to lovers stories. Some genres are just not getting as much attention.

Berindea says that BookTok shouldn't grab all the credit for introducing books to readers, because most of the viral books were popular way before the sudden exposure it received. She recommends that BookTokers read adult fiction and non-fiction books to expand their horizons beyond the YA fiction that is dominating the TikTok algorithm. For a reader similar to Berindea, who enjoys adult fiction, BookTok recommendations might not be her cup of tea with few exceptions. Apart from the books on BookTok, Smoak suggests "The Dutch House" by Ann Patchett and "The Topeka School" by Ben Lerner. 

However, if you are looking for young adult fiction and twisted plots, BookTok is beyond perfect for you. The Outreach Director of Book Club, Ava Gartman, offered "Circe" by Madeline Miller and "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. Both of these books are commonly mentioned on BookTok. 

"Circe" is a retelling of the life-story of a witch from Greek mythology. The book is filled with plot twists and beautiful descriptions of characters that are normally read about in myths. Vastly different from "Circe", "All the Light We Cannot See" has a plot that showcases the horror of the Nazi regime through an unconventional lens. A war-based book that isn’t entirely about the war, but is about the development of the main characters. 

The rise of BookTok came during quarantine when everyone just needed something to relieve their stress. And, what’s better at relieving stress than books? 

Anything that’s popular can be categorized as overrated, but the hype is there for a reason. Each reader should form their own opinions about BookTok based on the genres they enjoy.