Written by: Alex Houdeshell
Any good book lover knows they can go to Goodreads or LibraryThing for book recommendations, or else flip to the Arts & Entertainment section in any local or national paper to see what’s hot off the presses and shooting to the top of the New York Times bestseller’s list. Even going into a bookstore or a library, you can get an idea of what books are selling well based on which books are given the best displays. The best independent bookstores might even have written recommendations from employees taped along the shelves, like Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut. But with the video-sharing app TikTok, a whole new avenue for consuming literary content has come to town. TikTok has given comedians, activists, artists, and other creatives a new way to share and enjoy content, and booklovers haven’t been left out.
Book recommendations may be the most ubiquitous content on #booktok. Some creators will just share some of their own favorite titles by showing the covers to the camera, others will give you an on-screen review, and still others will give you hyper-specific book recommendations for a very specific literary kink. For example, TikToker @whatrachelreads makes horoscope-specific book recommendations like her recent video recommending books with “lovers at war” for Leos. I’ve favorited so many videos at this point, and added so many books to my to-read list in Goodreads that I’ll have no problem browsing next time I go to the library.
What makes TikTok stand out from other book-related media is that the algorithm — the app’s code to analyze your preferences and suggest new content — is freakily spot-on. This feature may have been designed to get you laughing by filling your For You Page (your main feed) with content that matches your sense of humor, but it makes the book recommendations that much more appropriate.
Some creators will also recommend books that fill often-lacking niches in the publishing industry. For example, some creators recommend books that focus on people of color without focusing on trauma, fantasy written by people of color, or books with a plus-sized main character. This makes TikTok a great way to expand your literary bubble and become a more diverse and inclusive reader (and potentially writer, if that’s your gig).
Besides book recommendations, booklovers have filled the app with fan content from nearly every literary fandom imaginable, no matter how popular or obscure. Harry Potter, being perhaps an overrated example, has flocks of TikTokers giving critical analyses of the series, defending or denouncing certain characters, sharing fan theories, making comedic Harry Potter sketches, and dressing up as their favorite characters. The longer my younger sister lives in her apartment alone, the more she threatens to start making Harry Potter cosplay TikToks. For a while, I was deep on Percy Jackson TikTok, but in addition to the childhood favorites, I’ve seen content related to The Selection Series, author Sarah J. Maas, Six of Crows, and classics like Jane Austen (for anyone familiar with their Twitter account, Sparknotes recently joined the TikTok game, too). Some of the content is made by deeply invested superfans, and some is made as an off-hand joke which only readers will appreciate. It varies to suit what you’re looking for.
And besides all this, the number of bookshelf design videos that have come across my For You Page makes me jealous I don’t have the same white, built-in bookshelves that seemingly every TikTok creator has been blessed with. By organizing books by color or size, or some other aesthetic principal, these are visually satisfying and jealousy-inducing.
TikTok has also offered authors a new platform to publicise their books. Authors like Angie Thomas, who wrote The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, use the app to talk about their recent books or interviews and connect with other readers and writers.
At the end of the day, the reason bibliophiles should download TikTok is the same reason everybody else has downloaded TikTok — or at least the reason very few people can delete the app once they’ve started scrolling. The seemingly deified “algorithm” is so revered for a reason: TikTok is really really good at finding content it knows you’ll like. The books I’ve mentioned in this article may seem skewed toward female-driven YA fantasy. It is. Because those are the books I like, and the TikTok algorithm picked up on that. More than Goodreads or your local library, TikTok will find you what you like, and then its creators will give you recommendations galore.
It may seem like it’s just some new silly social media all the kids are obsessed with, but as a booklover with an ever-growing list of titles I want to read, I recommend the app to readers young and old.