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Exploring the Positive Impact of BookTok on ‘A Little Life’

The initial occasion I perused Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life,” I found myself collapsed on the bathroom floor, shedding tears so intense that I had to resort to using my childhood inhaler.

Some attribute this reaction to empathy, others to the potency of the writing, and still others to the influence of BookTok, a niche on TikTok dedicated to books and reading.

BookTok has motivated countless individuals from what some describe as a disconnected generation, characterized by short attention spans, to engage with and finish an 814-page novel. This phenomenon holds significant positive potential.

However, it has not escaped criticism, with two primary arguments being raised: the promotion of books containing explicit and pornographic content, and the prioritization of the aesthetics of reading over the substance of the content. Both assertions hold validity.

While romance has long been a prevalent genre, the resurgence of more explicit material, termed “smut,” has been propelled by the visibility afforded by BookTok. Following the success of E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey” series in the early 2010s, there has been a noticeable normalization of producing erotic content, particularly targeted towards women.

The concern arises when such explicit content begins to infiltrate books aimed at young adults, a trend evident on BookTok. Works like “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover blend elements of abusive relationships and sexual content. While some view this as broadening the reading scope for young adults, others fear that marketing such material to adolescents may normalize and celebrate pornography.

Regarding the aestheticization of reading, the only individuals perturbed by this are those who self-righteously label themselves as “true readers.” The politics surrounding how individuals are drawn to books, such as creating videos titled “books for femme fatales” or “books to read if you’re in a depressive spiral,” are inconsequential if they succeed in encouraging reading. The paramount goal is to foster a love for reading, regardless of the path taken.

The choice of literary consumption lies with the individual, akin to maintaining a balanced diet with reading selections as with meals. Including a mix of “Twilight” alongside “Crime and Punishment” is not detrimental; it diversifies literary experiences and provides an escape, akin to childhood days.

Upon entering any bookstore, whether a quaint local shop or a retail giant like Barnes & Noble, one is likely to encounter a display featuring trending reads. While some may eschew these selections in favor of classic literature, novels like Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” often grace these tables. Despite potential content warnings, the push from social media compelled many, myself included, to delve into its pages.

“A Little Life” intricately weaves the tale of four friends and the evolution of their bond over decades, with a focus on the enigmatic character Jude. Jude’s narrative evokes varied responses, sparking intense discussions on BookTok. His harrowing experiences of assault, abduction, and torture are either lauded for their poignant portrayal of a tragic existence or criticized as exploitative.

Irrespective of individual perspectives on Jude, “A Little Life” stands as a pinnacle of BookTok success. Since its release in 2015, the novel has garnered critical acclaim, securing nominations and awards. However, it was the fervent following it amassed on social media, particularly BookTok, that cemented its status within the platform’s culture.

While the novel’s darker themes may be off-putting to some, serving as convenient excuses to avoid discomfort, for those seeking a contemporary narrative delving into profound complexities, “A Little Life” beckons.

This work serves as a testament to the influence of BookTok, showcasing how quality literature, when embraced by internet trends, can reach and resonate with a broader audience.

Undoubtedly, there exist drawbacks to BookTok, as with any online subculture that intertwines with commercial interests. Yet, by discerning publishers and readers who can identify works capable of shaping generations, we may find ourselves in a more enriched literary landscape than anticipated.