Stop Listening to BookTok, Please Read a Memoir

I’m going to preface this with the fact that I don’t think all those cartoon-cover romance novels are bad. Emily Henry is a pretty good writer, Rachel Lynn Solomon has some interesting books (and she sets her novels in my hometown, so I’ll eat those up) – but somehow BookTok, or Book TikTok, has created the notion that mediocre works of romantic fiction are actually literary genius. I have nothing against romance as a genre as long as it’s well-written (think Sally Rooney), and I’m not one of those people that believes classics are the only works of fiction worth reading, but I think BookTok’s constant uplifting of these easy-read novels over other novels with more literary value and better writing is shifting the idea of what it is to read or be a reader.

I’m not here to tell you what to read. If cartoon-cover books are truly the only genre you want to read, I’m not going to stop you. I’m not at all trying to sound like a book elitist – you should read whatever you like, as long as it’s well written. But BookTok, which has gotten so many young people back into reading books, only promotes books like these. There’s a whole other world of books out there that are complex and full of deeper themes and ideas that some of these TikTok books only chance across, and they’re buried underneath the constant Colleen Hoover recommendations (who honestly, I think is not at all a talented writer. Maybe she understands the creation of a story, but her writing reads like a middle schooler’s).

But here’s the thing – while these books may be enjoyable or take us away from the drudgery of our lives, they are not the height of fiction. They are not the best books ever written. They are not rife with imagery or sentences to marvel at. They are not usually going to expand your worldview past what you already know (and really, isn’t that the point of reading? To learn about the life of someone else and take that with you into your own life?). Maybe a contemporary romance novel is pretty enjoyable, but I really don’t believe it’s a five star novel (an exception to this is The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, which is to date one of my favorite reads). When we read, we should be reading books that push and challenge us to think differently or expand our points of view, books that make us feel more than just giddiness or suspense.

We also need to stop recommending what’s already been recommended. Everyone’s already reading Emily Henry. I love her books as much as the next emotionally burdened young woman, but people are reading her. She’s a successful author and her books are going to sell whether or not they’re promoted online. If I’m on BookTok I don’t want to get yet another recommendation for Beach Read, I want to receive a recommendation for a lesser known, equally talented writer that may just be breaking onto the scene. I want to hear about a book I’ve never heard about before, something that may push me to expand my tastes past the authors I already read.

I’m not trying to vilify BookTok – romance is just as important and valid as any other genre of fiction – but there are romance novels that execute well and there are others that are short reads you’ll never think about again. I urge you, please, to pick up some contemporary literary fiction, or a classic, or a memoir, or even an essay collection. I promise it won’t hurt.

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