In my book: The lovely fantasyland of bookstagram

A graphic of a woman in a yellow long-sleeve shirt sitting down and reading a book against a patterned red and orange ombré background.
Graphic by Ugen Yonten

Welcome to #bookstagram, population 29.9 million. Here lives square shot after square shot of books with food, books with leaves, books with other books-with-food-and-leaves. It is a world where languid legs drape across ruffled beds, texts perch on woolen-clad feet and coiffed lattes lounge amongst tea candles. Everything is color-coded, every hour is golden hour and everyone owns either a fluffy cat or tortoise-shell glasses.

This Instagram subculture has caused quite a stir amongst the literati. Critics hiss that the trend is vapid, superficial — a pursuit of aesthetics rather than blushing, beating, literary love. Vulture contributor Hillary Kelly wrote: “These people are beautiful literary hermits, dammit, Brontë sisters wandering the wild moors of the inside of your iPhone, seekers of beauty and truth and a shit ton of unearned likes.”

She’s right. They certainly are beautiful seekers of beauty — alchemists that transform books into art. Every bookstagram account glows gorgeous.

But “hermits”? “Unearned” likes? Unlikely. From the close-knit community formed between posters to the hours spent crafting content, these creatives seem more like sedulous socialites than spoiled insolates.

Kelly, however, doesn’t stop there. She accuses bookstagrammers of reducing books to backdrops, calling their posts “devoid … of any engagement with what books really do.”

This comment implies that there is one correct way of interacting with books — and it isn’t through bookstagram.

I do believe that books merit a certain amount of respect. Pinterest craft posts that call for the cutting of books — shame, shame on you. The still-prevalent practice of book-burning: sheer horror. In other words, any form of book engagement that involves breaking or burning is wrong.

But bookstagrammers don’t do that. They interact by posting lovely book photos, and then they go on to like other people’s lovely book photos. Is it really so awful for a group of mostly female book-lovers to appreciate not just content, but also form?

Besides, I don’t see Kelly, or anyone else for the matter, calling cover designers superficial for expressing themselves through an aesthetic lens. No one bristles at the idea that books need siren call covers to shipwreck readers as they sail down bookstore aisles.

My question, then: What is so different between cover art and bookstagram art?

In fact, in a world where people are reading less on average, we can’t afford to shun any practice that encourages respectful engagement with books. And between bookstagrammers’ millions of followers and daily posts, they are at least causing engagement.

Best case, their posts inspire someone to read. Worst case, they at least remind people that books do, in fact, exist in real life. Instagram is part of the new age, and so associating books with the platform’s aesthetic drive might help combat the view of books as anachronistic, old-fashioned and unnecessary.

The publishing industry itself continues to trip and tumble its way through our blinking, fresh-lidded digital era. Like it or not, we live in a time where social media is the game. Judgments such as Kelly’s will only further alienate the exact demographic publishers need: readers of the modern age. Readers who grew up interacting over visual platforms like Instagram, and will continue to do so.

These Instagrammers have become a powerful, Hail Mary force when it comes to book marketing. And they don’t just treat their books like arm-candy (or, in this case, bed and bookshelf candy?). Often, reviews, quotes and other comments get posted right alongside their professional-looking photos. In my book, that certainly counts as engaging “with what books really do.”

All this being said, for me the world of bookstagram is elusive, divine, out of reach. My real-life reading experience is ugly in comparison. Reading happens when it can, where it can — be that in a sticky chair at the train station, under the jaundiced lights of a waiting room, or in the five free minutes I have between classes. Nothing about these environments is glamorous or Instagram-worthy.

I wish this wasn’t the case. I wish reading was an activity in itself, an ideal these Instagrammers sell. One that involves the soft blaze of a fireplace and an overstuffed, Victorian parlor chair.

For now, though, it’s enough for me to feast on the glittery world of bookstagram.

Samantha Resnick PO ’19 is a linguistics major. She likes reading words, and sometimes, she likes writing them, too.

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