TikTok subculture inspires teens to read

Senior+Asha+Patel+checks+out+a+book+from+the+Pritzker-Traubert+family+library.++The+TikTok+subculture+BookTok+has+sparked+new+interest+in+books+among+teens.++

Gabriel Issa

Senior Asha Patel checks out a book from the Pritzker-Traubert family library. The TikTok subculture BookTok has sparked new interest in books among teens.

By Mia Lipson, University of Chicago Laboratory High School

On an average school day, after school, sophomore Lisa Tao spends 30 minutes on TikTok, scrolling through countless videos. One video she comes across offers a video that suggests “The Bell Jar,” written in 1963 by Sylvia Plath. Intrigued by the recommendation, Lisa decides to look more into the book and the author’s background, which the video mentioned. 

On her “For You” page, this type of video is not uncommon. In fact, approximately half of the videos’s Lisa watches are from BookTok, a subculture of TikTok dedicated to discussing books. 

BookTok — which offers recommendations, reviews and discussions of a broad range of literature — has become widely popular among teens, yet it has amassed mixed reactions among its viewers. While some enjoy BookTok’s recommendations and the space it provides for discourse, others have found its promoted books to lack diverse representation.

“There’re so many different kinds of books there, and it’s just really interesting to see such a wide set of books being shown in teen media,” Lisa said. 

Sophomore Sinéad Nagubadi has enjoyed numerous book recommendations from the platform. However, she said many of the books she initially saw promoted on BookTok lacked diverse voices. 

“TikTok pushes forward a lot of authors who don’t really understand good representation,” she said. “And then the good books with accurate representation are kind of pushed into the shadows.”

Middle school librarians Tad Andracki and Amy Atkinson appreciate the way BookTok has encouraged readers to engage with books they might have otherwise not seen. They utilized BookTok’s popularity to create a display dedicated to some of the books promoted by TikTok’s algorithm, as well as other related options. 

“Students will really latch on to one particular title that they’ve seen on BookTok that have been amplified by, like, the algorithm,” Mr. Andracki said. “But what our display was able to do was also take those recommendations and say, ‘Here’s something else that you might also be interested in reading that hasn’t been picked up by BookTok.’”  

 The algorithm is also impacting the publishing industry, as shown by data from the NPD BookScan, which displays the top selling books from each month, many of which are widely popular on BookTok. NPD Books’ executive director of business development and the primary industry analyst, Kristen McLean, credits BookTok’s growing popularity with the rise in print sales from 2020 to 2021 in the fiction category. 

“Overall, reading the book was a really interesting and thought-provoking experience,” Lisa said. “I would definitely look to BookTok again for another recommendation.”

This story was originally published on U-High Midway on September 22, 2022.