For everyone Reading is cool
Have you heard? Reading is trendy. Thank goodness. No longer do I have to carry my book purchases home in a Sportsgirl bag or kick my Margaret Atwood collection under the bed when guests drop by. Finally, I can open a book in a cafe, and visit a library without fear of embarrassment.
It’s not just me who’s saying this, either. It’s young people. (You’re sitting down, right?) Since the start of the pandemic, teenagers – mostly girls – have ‘discovered’ reading and decided it’s, well, cool. According to the UK’s National Literacy Trust, a third of teenagers increased the time spent reading for pleasure in 2021.
And they’re not only reading, they’re boasting about it, loudly and proudly, with the help of their smartphones. Across various social media platforms, young influencers are espousing the benefits of reading as if it’s a new skincare regime, uploading videos for other teenagers to view, like, and comment on. One such influencer is American Emma Chamberlain, whose video entitled ‘Reading Makes You Hot’ has had almost five million views.
Should you be brave enough to tiptoe over to TikTok, you’ll find the enormously popular #booktok thread, where videos have had well over 84 million views. Nestled amongst the dance moves, make-up tutorials, and risky pranks, #booktok is a safe space where young people connect, share recommendations, and swoon over the latest big thing. Even the offshoots, such as #hotgirlreads, are surprisingly wholesome places where (mostly) teenage girls take pride in being smart, quirky, and conveniently skilled in video and music editing. The era of the nerdy, friendless loser with a stack of books is over. Behold the empowered alpha female unafraid to share her passion for reading.
Attend any writers festival on a schools or family day, and you’ll see what real rock stars look like.
And by passion, I mean emotions. These posts are brimming with love and hate (but mostly love) and there’s no shame in any of it. They video themselves through glistening, happy tears and even heaving, ugly sobs. (It’s true: this thing we once did in the privacy of our rooms is now considered great content.) One of the most fashionable trends on #booktok is an attractive teen filming their unattractive reaction as they read the final pages of an angsty novel, especially if it’s a book by American writer Colleen Hoover. Tear-stricken, bawling adolescents have gone more viral than Baby Shark or Wordle.
And when beautiful teenagers cry on screen, sales are sure to follow. According to Australia’s Nielsen Book Scan, book sales spiked during the pandemic, with young adult titles seeing a 27% increase since 2019. Teenagers are buying actual books from actual bookstores, which they’re displaying on actual bookshelves in all their colour-coded splendour.
Booksellers are rightly pleased with the uptick in sales, but the same can’t be said for everyone. With the online world acting as an echo-chamber, only a handful of novels have turned into massive #booktok hits. This means the colourful books we see lining the teenage readers’ shelves are usually American fantasy, drama and/or romance (with bonus points for a tragic ending). As such, the Australian book industry is yet to really benefit from the free publicity #booktok is offering. Understandably, local publishers are now encouraging their writers to get TikTok savvy, but what could be less cool than a middle-aged author attempting to be ‘on fleek’?
When it comes to younger readers, the story is different, as primary teachers well know. Before puberty arrives and makes them jaded and cynical, children – boys included – love reading. Like, properly love it, and not only when the camera’s rolling and they’re trying to attract sponsorship. Primary teachers know the joy that books bring their students, even the ones who do their stubborn best to hate them. Attend any writers festival on a schools or family day, and you’ll see what real rock stars look like: Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton, Sally Rippin, Oliver Phommavanh, Jessica Townsend, R.A. Spratt, and many more. Kids arrive in costumes, carrying huge stacks of well-thumbed books. The queues for signatures stretch further than any adult author’s teary eye can see. Kids boast of reading books multiple times – all 20 in the series – and can quote huge chunks of text.
Of course, I’m generalising. Not all primary school students love a cosy book corner. But, for a large proportion, reading has never not been trendy. Young readers share recommendations face-to-face, with gleeful enthusiasm. If they don’t like something, they’ll say so with brutal honesty. Kids read in public, even when they’re not being watched. If only we could find a way to make them stay that way.