This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
When I tell people that I'm on track to read 365 books this year, they ask for my secrets. I wish there were one, like some kind of Limitless-style pill that I could sell to internet-brained adults that would fund a coastal grandmother early retirement somewhere along the New England coast.
In truth, I fell in love with reading again (after 18 months of isolation-induced scrolling on social media) by tricking myself into thinking it was a fun little internet thing.
My first gateway was BookTok, which is currently such a powerful organic marketing engine that it has been credited with literally changing the publishing industry. I started seeing the same books recommended in dozens of different videos and was immediately intimidated by how far behind I felt for not having heard of Evelyn Hugo.
BookTok is a superpowered engine of discovery, stacked with recommendations and niche references, and I used it to build up a TBR (or “to be read”) list on Goodreads, a social network for reading. If you asked me who my favorite BookTokers are, I honestly couldn’t tell you because their videos aren’t long enough for me to form an attachment to them.
Instead, the books of BookTok became like celebrities to me: Any commentary on the plotless yet delightful The Idiot gave me joy, and I felt compelled to warn anyone who picked up a cliché yet chaotic Colleen Hoover novel. I wanted to get my hands on the hot new thing so I could understand the online discourse.
And when I need more information, I head to BookTube, where YouTubers discuss books. Some say BookTube is past its prime, but it’s just a different beast where viewers care more about what specific creators say. BookTubers do deeper dives into plot and book nuances. One of my favorite genres is the monthly wrap-up video, in which creators talk about all the books they read that month, usually the hot new books with some old favorites.
I fall asleep listening to videos from BooksandLala almost every night. I don’t even have the same taste in books as her; I just like how she talks about them. She’ll spend time reading books based on what the winning Wordle answer was for the day or what her mom loved to read as a kid.
Jack Edwards' series in which he reads the books celebrities have been photographed with is keeping celebrity book stylists in business — and my TBR list full.
The home base of the book internet, though, is Bookstagram. I first joined in 2016, when it was easy to get thousands of followers by sharing the right hashtags, and much of its audience is still highly invested in vintage growth hacking tactics, such as follow trains, which is when you mass-follow a bunch of accounts who follow you back. I’ve been shadow-banned for the past five months because I dabbled in this.
Bookstagram is infamous for its self-contained drama. It’s also the means through which a lot of publishing houses decide who gets to read the hot new books for free. For example, Random House has an influencer program; to apply for it, you’ll need at least 1,500 followers, an achievable goal for a microinfluencer.
Accounts like @thegirlwhoreadsonthemetro have ushered in a new era of Bookstagram aesthetics that are more in line with what you’d see on TikTok — darker filters and simplistic backgrounds paired with essay-length captions breaking down the nuances of the book, which often stars a chaotic and unlikable protagonist. I eat those up! If I wanted to hear about a good person, I’d talk to my friends.
True readers will find me to be a chaotic and unlikable protagonist myself. The thing that finally got me to read, after all of this book curating across the internet, was the promise of an aesthetic. TikTok’s “that girl” trend has effectively tricked people into getting their lives together for the promise of being able to appear on social media as someone who has their life together; similarly, I started reading so I could be seen as a reader. And now I can’t stop.
Once you’re obsessed with reading (and posting about reading), the rest comes easy. Here are a few ways you can use the internet to become an avid reader yourself:
- Get a library card and use it to check out books, either in person or through the Libby app.
- Start listening to audiobooks, and don’t take any heat from people who don’t think that’s real reading. As cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham wrote for the Washington Post, it’s the same mental process with slightly less decoding. You’re not cheating. You’re winning. I recommend Libro.fm, and, yes, I double the reading speed so I have to really pay attention.
On a normal day, I’ll listen to an audiobook for a couple of hours in the morning and then pick it up again at lunch. When I finish work, I’ll either read a physical book in my house or take the book with me on my train ride to and from my dinner plans. At night, I’ll listen to an audiobook or read on my phone, depending on how tired my eyes are. I’ll fall asleep looking for my next read. Rinse and repeat until I burn out and have to become obsessed with something else, which the internet will surely serve me soon enough.