I started a YouTube channel because I had failed. A Harper Perennial Classic edition of The Bell Jar sat half-read on my desk as the recruiter told me over the phone that the aforementioned publisher had gone with someone else. I put the copy underneath a stack of my resumes. It was clear now that the problem with wanting to make a career out of what you love is that the rejections are always personal.
My subsequent action upon receiving Harper Collins’s rejection was to move my desk against my living room’s East window. I believe that there is something about furniture rearrangement that has the ability to alter the course of things. For me, it meant that the natural light would be ideal for filming videos at approximately 12:30 in the afternoon.
I didn’t want to talk about books to people, let alone to a camera lens. What I really wanted to do was watch reruns of “Gilmore Girls,” or retreat into the pages of Austen’s literary worlds that had endings and beginnings that made sense to me. But with an entire summer of free time now in my future, and no publishing job in sight, it was clear that I was going to have to make that connection to the literary world myself.
In my “Booktube Newbie Tag” video, I answered personal questions that directly pertained to my love of books. Then, I took my video one-crazy-step-further and decided to upload it to YouTube. The Internet was now privy to the time that had I gotten caught reading in traffic by a highway cop as well as my obsession with everything Neil Gaiman.
I’m not sure what I expected to come from this unanticipated venture. But what I did not expect was readers from Spain, Norway, and Egypt to reach out after I had posted my first video. What followed was a summer packed with social media read-a-longs with viewers from across the globe, and hours spent trying to film content without my cat knocking over my tripod.
As I sat in a small interviewing room in Manhattan this past January, I was surprised to discover that it was not my professional accolades that had landed me the interview with Simon & Schuster. Instead, my YouTube channel is what had gotten my foot in the door. If this experience has proved anything to me, it is that the world is craving people who are willing to talk about books. I believe that books close the gaps between cultures and countries and helps us understand the humanity of the world in which we live.
You do not have to start a YouTube channel to talk with people about books. Instead, invest in whatever comes as the easiest form of expression. Start a blog, or even a Hemingway fan club on campus. A pair of writers and educators started an initiative on Facebook to send books to the White House on Valentine’s Day. Obviously, nothing is totally out of the question.
At this politically contentious moment in history, talking to each other is paramount. People are coming together in the form of both marches and protests, so why can’t we come together to talk about books? People are reading. Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 is at an all time high after the election. We need to speak unwaveringly about the books that make us think as well as to the people who are reading them. As Albert Camus once said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”
Reading is a uniquely solitary experience. While Dostoevsky’s protagonists may not be as amiable of company as Austen’s, there’s something that draws me to these characters that keeps me up until the wee hours of twilight. I have a fear of that moment when I will flip to that final page, and I will be alone again. Instead of putting that book back on the shelf – or worse – under a stack of resumes: I have decided to talk to those who share my interest in literature.