What is BookTok? (& Which Books To Read First)

The viral trend dominating the internet’s literary corners

You may have heard of book swaps, book clubs, and book festivals, but do you know about BookTok? The app where all viral trends seem to stem from, TikTok, is back again to take up your screen time (and bookshelf).

What is BookTok?

BookTok is a TikTok subculture where users share short-form videos gushing about their favourite reads and recommend books to their followers. That said, many BookTok users don’t create content, but simply use the platform to discover new reads. New research from The Publishers Association suggests that BookTok is so influential, it is completely transforming reading habits.

This is especially prevalent among the younger generation. The Publishers Association recently found that 59 percent of 16 to 25 year olds have discover a passion for reading because of BookTok. Likewise, 55 percent of these young people turn to BookTok for recommendations, two in three say that BookTok has inspired them to read a book they would never have considered otherwise, and one in three have discovered books by authors from different cultures through BookTok.

One the most popular pillars of content on the app, #BookTok continues to make waves amongst bookworms all over the world – with the hashtag alone racking up almost 100 billion views and counting. Dan Conway, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association, says: ‘It’s great to see that the BookTok phenomenon is igniting a love of reading for young people. Reading can be so beneficial to health and happiness, and is a way for all ages to connect over common interests. Publishers are fully embracing this trend, and it is really interesting that this is a digital phenomenon which is being felt directly on the high street.’

BookTok is the book club that anyone anywhere can get on board with, but it can take a while to learn the ropes. Here’s what you need to know about the TikTok phenomenon.

Recommendations and Reviews

@thebookwhispererThese will destroy you🖤 #booktok #books #fyp #foryoupage #bookish #bookrecommendations #book #bookrecs #reading #booklovers #sad #beautiful #fy♬ Hey Jesus loves you so much repent and turn to him – Gabriel Storm

Where would #BookTok be without people falling over themselves to tell you about their favourite book? Those perusing the app can expect to find some great reading lists for all occasions – from classics and spicy romances to the stories that left a long-lasting impact on their readers. Just be warned, you’ll probably exit the app with 30 new books in your online shopping basket.

In fact, The Publishers Association found that more than half of their survey respondents use BookTok purely to find books that they wouldn’t expect to hear about elsewhere, and one in three cited this as BookTok’s biggest advantage.

@lauryns_libraryand the hotel room only has one bed!!!!!! ##books ##booktok ##enemiestolovers ##onebedtrope ##storytime♬ original sound – Lauryn✨🦋📖

One of the quirkier ways people have shared their favourite books is through the ‘storytime’ trend, a hashtag usually reserved for those wanting to share real-life dramatic stories or secrets. Content creators will tell the story from their perspective, only to reveal that their personal dilemma is in fact the plot of the book they are recommending. It’s a creative way to draw an audience into a story – if not slightly jarring at first.

A Space for Aspiring Authors

@ameliewenzhaoI was asked about my publishing journey! ##authorsoftiktok ##author ##writer ##writersoftiktok ##publishing ##aspiringauthor♬ Feel This Moment (Riddler & Reid Stefan Club Mix) – Pitbull

TikTok is a great space for authors to find advice, share their ideas and build a fan following. You can often find established authors using their platform to share tricks and tips on the writing process and the steps they’ve taken to get their work published, offering some much needed guidance in what can seem a closed-off industry.

Fans can also connect with their favourite authors, tuning in to watch their progress and chat with them in the comments about characters, settings, and plot lines. For new writers especially, #BookTok is ideal for introducing readers to the worlds they’ve created. Think behind the scenes content, Q&A’s and in-depth explorations of the books we’ll soon fall in love with.

Where to Curl Up with a Book

@mariaandreaz97📍Admont Library, Austria. #austria #österreicher #library #travel #traveller #travelling #secretplace #travelguru #travelguide #latina #view♬ Be Our Guest (From “Beauty and the Beast”) – Chocolate Ice Cream

Perhaps the best – if not the prettiest – part of #BookTok is the ability to see the best places in the world for reading. Ornate libraries, cosy nooks and quiet coffee shops are just a click away from exploration: all you need is a good internet connection.

This side of #BookTok will no doubt see book lovers adding an extra hundred or so destinations to their travel bucket list, if they weren’t on there already.

BookTok’s Favourite Book Shops

And it’s not only where you read that matters – where you shop plays a role, too. Due to aesthetic videos and word-of-mouth (or word-of-TikTok) recommendations, BookTok has provided a boost for shopping in store. Think aesthetic bookstores like the iconic Marylebone Daunt Books, tiny and aged bookshops with sloping ceilings, and anything with a dark academic angle. In fact, The Publishers Association finds that four in five Gen-Zers prefer to shop in person, with over half visiting their local bookshop to purchase a book they were recommended by BookTok.

BookBar, an independent bookshop and wine bar in Islington, has adjusted its stocking choices to cater to BookTok’s recommendations and subsequent high demand. Owner Chrissy Ryan said: ‘Launching in the pandemic was challenging but BookTok has been really helpful in driving customers into our store. More and more we are seeing young people come to the shop asking for books they discovered on TikTok.’

‘At Book Bar, we really want to facilitate those connections they’ve found online to create an authentic in person experience,’ says Chrissy. ‘We are increasingly looking to BookTok to help determine our stock and predict demand. It’s exciting to see that BookTok has helped make reading cool again.’

The Books TikTok Can’t Get Enough Of

As a result of BookTok, Gen-Z’s library is extremely diverse, with 33 percent of The Publishers Association’s respondents saying they discovered books by authors from different cultures through the platform, with nearly two in five finding a love for a new genre. And it’s not all new and zeitgeisty: one in four BookTok users have found classical books through the platform that they had never heard of before.

So, which books does BookTok love? Here are the best places to start.

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Book cover for honey & spice

Honey & Spice by Bolu Babalola

The sharp-tongued Kiki Banjo is an expert in relationship-evasion, and as the host of the popular student radio show, Brown Sugar, it is her mission to make sure the women who make up the Afro-Caribbean Society at Whitewell University also do not fall into the mess of ‘situationships’, players and heartbreak. But when Kiki meets the distressingly handsome and charming newcomer Malakai Korede – who she has publicly denounced as ‘The Wasteman of Whitewell’ – her defences are weakened and her heart is compromised.

Headline Publishing Group, £14.99, waterstones.co.uk

Books To Read Before They Hit The Screens, Where The Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Settled on the edge of polite society, Kya Clark lives as an outcast in the marshes of Barkley Cove. The local villagers are already wary of Kya – who they deem the ‘Marsh Girl – but when popular Chase Andrews is found dead in 1969, it ignites a new wave of suspicion and hostility that forces Kya to open her world to others.

Little, Brown, from $4.19, wob.com

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime: Feyi is about to be given the chance to escape the City’s blistering heat for a dream island holiday: poolside cocktails, beach sunsets, and elaborate meals. And as the sun goes down on her old life our heroine also might just be ready to open her heart to someone new. The only problem is, she’s falling for the one man she absolutely can’t have.

Faber & Faber, from £11.19, wob.com

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare, Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows the blossoming relationship between Lily Hu and Kathleen Miller. The two meet at a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club, but 1950s American is a dangerous time to be in a same-sex relationship – especially for Lily and her family, who run the risk of deportation despite holding American citizenship. Will Lily and Kath’s love beat the odds?

Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99, waterstones.co.uk

Dating Dr Dil

Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharam

Kareena dreams of having a perfect love story like her parents did. That’s why on the morning of her thirtieth birthday, she’s decided to suit up and enter the dating arena. When her widowed father announces he’s retiring and selling their home after her sister’s engagement party, Kareena makes a deal with him. If she can find her soulmate by the date of the party, he’ll gift her the house, and she’ll be able to keep her mother’s legacy alive.

Prem doesn’t have time for romance, which is why it’s no surprise when his first meeting with Kareena goes awry. Their second encounter is worse when their on-air debate about love goes viral. Now Prem’s largest community centre donor is backing out because Prem’s reputation as a heart-health expert is at risk. To get back in his donor’s good graces, he needs to fix his image fast, and dating Kareena is his only option.

HarperCollins, from £5.79, wob.com

What is #BookTok - We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cadence Sinclair has spent every summer since she was a child at Beechwood, her family’s private island. She and her friends, a group nicknamed the Liars, remain close until one summer when Cadence ends up in a serious accident. As Cadence pieces together the circumstances of her accident, she begins to discover the truth about herself and her family.

Hot Key Books, £7.99, waterstones.co.uk

What is #BookTok - The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Ageing and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. She chooses flagging reporter Monique Grant to write her biography, a decision no one was expecting. What follows is a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love – and a surprise intersection of both women’s lives.

Washington Square Press, from £6.19, wob.com

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This retelling of Homer’s Iliad stays to true its original queer storyline as it follows the relationship between Patroclus and the Ancient Greek hero Achilles. The boys are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes out that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Achilles joins the cause and Patroclus follows, but the decision to go to war costs more than they could have ever imagined.

Bloomsbury Paperbacks, from £5.19, wob.com

They Both Die At The End

They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they’re going to die today. Two lonely souls come together in their final hours through the app Last Friend. They’re total strangers, but they’re both set on the goal to share their last great adventure together.

Simon & Schuster Children’s UK, from £3.49, wob.com

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Addie LaRue spends the next 300 years trying to make an impression on the world, without much success. It’s only when she stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore who remembers her name that things start to change.

Titan Books (UK), from £10.19, wob.com

Featured image: Getty Images