BookTok encourages reading as an aesthetic and no one is safe from its gaze ↗

From the Makes Me Feel Old Even Though I’m Not Actually that Old Department.

By Elena Cavender at Mashable:

“Lots of people read on their phones or Kindles on the train, and those people are reading just for the sake of reading. But the people that are reading a physical book with a cover on it, they’re making a choice to read that one in public,” Erin Hunziker, a 28-year-old digital marketing content creator, tells Mashable.

The implication that reading has transformed into a theatrical performance in which everyone must be engaged doesn’t sit well. I would have guessed that the person reading a physical book was doing so because they liked reading. It’s a mistake to assume one’s worldview must be shared by the rest of the world (is there a name for that fallacy?).

Maybe I’m out of touch with what younger people value these days. If that’s what being active in BookTok entails, then I’ll take the ridicule and frustrated eye rolls. It’s been clear for a while that I won’t get much out of TikTok. In the past, I may have endeavored to jump on the bandwagon so I could be aware of what’s popular, but that desire has faded. It’s not for me.

Performative reading isn’t something I want to engage in, nor have I felt compelled to. It’s an unequivocal good that BookTok has gotten more people reading books, but shouldn’t reading be done for personal joy instead of clout? Making value judgments about what a stranger is reading is exclusionary. It’s more likely to drive people away from reading for fear of displaying the wrong book. Or it’ll destroy the urge to discover new works in favor of relying on what the rest of BookTok is currently fixated on.

Men who read are largely except [sic] from this treatment of reading, just as they are largely exempt from the conversation around chasing aesthetics. (Though, there’s a certain archetype constructed around men who read Infinite Jest.)

That’s fair. I’ve never felt the pressure to chase an aesthetic in my life. Whether that’s because I’m not on TikTok (and hardly any social media) or because of what’s in my pants is up for debate. Regardless, men should not take for granted their relative lack of pressure from the world.

This whole thing makes me think of how I feel about the term “guilty pleasure”: I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about what they enjoy. Like what you like. To hell with anyone who tries to make you feel bad about your passions!

Conversely, if carrying around a book and designing a look/personality around what accompanies you on your travels is fulfilling, then who is anyone to judge? “Like what you like” cuts both ways—I should enjoy what I want and you should enjoy what you want, and both of us should carry on unmolested.

This article describes a symptom of the broader issue with social media: If you let it, TikTok, Instagram, or whatever else will eventually rise to the top will take what you love away from you. It’s one of the greatest, most efficient joy-sucking tools humans have ever created. That’s the danger inherent in performative posting, as mentioned earlier. Books are a great thing. Wouldn’t it be a shame if that love turned rotten because of the nasty demons lurking in all those services?