I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the affect social media has on my reading, in terms of what books I buy, which books I decide to read next, and which books I write off, be it from bad reviews or a lack of online presence.
To put this into a bit of context, the book I’m currently reading is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – a book that has had so much attention on social media that it would have been impossible for me to have missed it. There are my reasons why I would have normally picked up this book; for one I was at a launch where the UK Publisher announced it last Summer, and the bookshop I used to work at featured it as one of their books of the month. The book is high fantasy, my all-time favourite genre, so of course there are many reasons as to why I may have picked up this book on my own. However, I know without fail that the reason I’m reading it right now is due to all of the attention it has been getting on social media. Readers around the world are picking up this book, adoring it, and immediately going to Twitter and Instagram to announce it to the world. The hype and excitement that has been built has only increased – the book reaching the number 1 bestselling slots in so many charts was really only the beginning. So from all of that attention, along with the nagging of one of my best friends, I went out, bought the book, and decided it was going to be moved to my ‘to be read now‘ pile.
My experience with choosing to read Children of Blood and Bone isn’t an unusual one, as I’ve come to realise. I am very aware that I will rarely go into a bookshop, pick up a random book, and read it (to clarify, when I say ‘random’, I mean walking around, reading various blurbs, and going with the one that I think I’ll enjoy the most – not just strutting up to any old shelf, blindly selecting a book, and going with it). What I read is normally determined by what I’ve heard about the book, and my main source of information is social media. Yes, my friends play a big part, but even when I think back to something everyone has told me to read (such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), I was still very much aware of how the book was being received due to online platforms. If I see a negative review on Twitter, Instagram, or even Goodreads about a book I’m planning to read, quite often I’ll push it back on my list of what to read next because of that review. Similarly, if I watch someone talk about books on Youtube and they mention a book I have and gush non-stop about it, I’ll likely bump it up on my list to read it sooner.
There are positives and negatives of this kind of approach to reading. On the negative side of things, it does mean that maybe I’ll miss out on a book I would like, simply because I’ve seen other people dislike it. I do feel a sort of nostalgia when I think back to how I picked my books when I was younger, walking into a bookshop and drifting around, selecting two or three books all of which I’d never heard of before. Sometimes this would work out fantastically, and sometimes it would be a disaster, but I’d still read a wide selection of books that I probably wouldn’t pick up now.
Yet equally, there have been plenty of times recently where I’ve picked up books that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for social media. Take Eleanor Oliphant, a book I really wouldn’t glance at twice, except there was so much press and positivity around this one title, not to mention the sometimes melodramatic proclamations of adoration, that I had to pick it up just to see what the fuss was about; and I couldn’t be happier that I did. There’s also another recent read of mine, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, which I mainly liked the look of because of the cover, but I’d heard so many things about it that I decided to read it sooner rather than later. Whilst reading is a solitary sort of activity, social media creates a community of readers who can gush to each other to their heart’s content. Whilst working in a bookshop, I was never at a loss for who to talk to about the books I was reading, and even though I still work in a book-focussed environment, the presence of the online community is a great one to have. Sure, you may have similar tastes with someone, but there’s nothing like finishing a book and finding someone else who has also finished, just so you can scream about how it ended, be it good or bad, and have a discussion.
Reading is considered a more traditional sort of hobby, and despite the upsurge of technology-related reading products, there’s nothing quite as organic as cracking open a fresh, physical book and turning it’s pages. Still, this doesn’t mean that technology doesn’t have a place within the realm of books. Clearly, social media is now one of the main ways we market a book and get the attention of potential readers. Social media, no matter what you think of it, is a powerful tool, and one that we are starting to utilise in so many ways. As much as I am an advocate for the physical book, I cannot deny that ebooks and audiobooks and the like have brought in a whole different group of people to reading – and what could possibly be bad about bringing books into someone’s life? The same, I feel, is with social media. Sure, there are negatives, but the positives far outweigh them, and I for one am grateful that no matter what, someone out there has a book recommendation for me that, 9 times out of 10, I’ll end up loving.