Hi guys, the lovely, young woman sighed breathlessly on the screen to her viewers. I clicked of the little pop-up ad at the bottom of her video, concerned with the overt distress she opened her vlog with. The anxiety and stress in her voice were palpable. She looked somewhat ashamed, too embarrassed to even be in front of her camera. She fidgeted nervously with her hair before she lurched into a hurried explanation for her state: I’m really not happy. I only read fourteen books in the month of November which isn’t great, which means I’ll have to read 21 books in December to reach my end of year goal — I clicked off. This was precisely why I had left. It seemed as though nothing had changed.
It was early December. I had abstained from watching any booktube videos for coming up to nearly six months by this point. In the summer I have unsubscribed from the vast majority of people I watched on Youtube once upon a time, but had remained loyal to the video creators I was personally attached to, most of whom are book reviewers. Booktubers. Trouble is, booktube has become a marketing scheme. If people aren’t marketing for other publishers, they’re marketing for themselves as creatives or marketing themselves as quantifiable bookworms. Which is fair; everything is linked to capitalism at the end of the day, and I know if I were a marketable personality had a marketable skill I would employ the techniques accordingly. Trouble is I’m not, and it unfortunately took me a long time to realise that I was playing a game I shouldn’t be playing and it ruined me.
What I found out I found out the hard way: I’m just a reader, and a slow one of that. I’m dyslexic which yes, doesn’t help my shoddy reading speed, but I’m mainly a literary researcher. I annotate and analyse my texts, the latter always in an essay format which I invest a painstaking amount of time into, bizarrely, as a hobby. Back when I started talking about books online, nearly eight years ago now, it wasn’t anything other than the opportunity to discuss books. No one felt judged nor feared comparison. There was no anxiety to “prove” oneself as a reader, or to formulate and produce consistent quantities of content for an audience.
Nowadays I find myself somewhat, nay, quite concerned with the online literary climate. I’m troubled by the stress induced, obsessive reading habits people have adopted just to try and keep up with the big guns. The ones who read twelve, sixteen, twenty-one, twenty-seven books a month. I never tried to compete, I just became defeated. I couldn’t handle the pressure so I bailed. I stopped making book content online. What’s the point? I thought, I’m not meeting these standards, viewers won’t be interested in my small and brief commentaries. I’m not a real reader. Viewers started complaining though. They told me they missed my book related content; but I couldn’t give them what they wanted, and I know that they wanted what I couldn’t give. There was a reason why other book tubers were souring in popularity way ahead of me: they were the ones who read a lot more than I could ever dream of. That’s what the viewers wanted: they wanted real readers. I wasn’t that.
However, I slowly began to realise over time that the intensity of my reading did not signify a flaw in my bibliophilic status. Rather, my response to the competitive nature was an evolutionary act of self preservation. I had deterred myself away from self-destructive behaviour. There are some people who can read quickly. There are speed readers and those with photographic memories. There are readers with a lot of free time on their hands, or fewer responsibilities and stresses in life compared to others: but these people are technically in the minority, and their disproportionate presence online began to make me suspicious. There was little to no chance that everyone in the booktube reading community* could be classified as one or more of these types of people. What I began to detect in my distanced observation was an extensive book addiction being masked as a love of books. A healthy bibliophile reads their texts carefully; an addict devours them, regardless quality.
*It’s difficult, if not inaccurate, to refer to Booktube as a community at all. As someone who creates classifiable content for the genre but is completely uninvolved with and utterly ignored by other similar creators, I think a more appropriate phraseology for the collective would be ‘a pool of cliques’. Contemporary Booktube, like Youtube in general, smacks of what my boyfriend appropriate calls ‘one massive circle jerk’. You’re either famous enough to be associated with or you’re not worth their time.
Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be alone in my opinion. This entire post was inspired by a comment I received recently on one of my latest videos. Part of the comment read as thus:
While I’m on a roll listing all my frustrations – the “I read X number of books last year” is also a trend I’m uncomfortable with – as if the volume of reading is a means of quantifying the depth or richness of the experience. I’m so pleased your reviews focus on the content of the book and your response to this, rather than how many pages/volumes you can put away.
I hadn’t reviewed books in over a year when this comment was left. It meant a lot to me to read; it validated the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy which had pushed me away. It turns out I wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t just me overreacting and noticing it.Booktube videos had made me feel like a failure. They left me uninspired, bored but mainly inadequate as a reader and a fellow booktuber. The second someone proclaimed their number of books read in x amount of time I felt exacerbated; I felt as though I were on the receiving end of one massive brag. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge my achievement before we get onto discussing books. Reading was first and foremost something to be awed and impressed by, not a passion to be shared.
I’d spent my time away from social media really reflecting on how I wanted to use platforms and how much, or little, of myself I wished to disclose on them. I may write at a later date of how I developed new philosophies (such as deleting selfies, ceasing to be included in the majority of photos, quitting selfies in general and extracting personal, detailed narrative from my ‘quick-n-easy-to-digest’ social media platforms), but for now I’ll focus on the changes I made to book reviewing. If I review books again, I thought, they’ll be reviewed in abstract. Their quantity will not be discussed, nor the time period in which they are read.
Lit junkies are compelled by their compulsive reading habits due to their desperate need to feel in control of something. Book abuse can be characterised by reading too fast and remembering too little (usually around a month later). The reviews become a blur; everyone is reading the same thing at such a pace that their own opinions and analysis aren’t able to crystallise or formulate at all. One take on a book is the same as another, which ironically is the same as the blurb on the back. Stop; rehabilitate your reading. Digest their words properly, chew on them twenty times each before swallowing. Focus on the quality of the attention you give what you’re reading, not the quantity thoughtlessly consumed. My rule of thumb is: if I can’t write even a brief essay on the book after finishing, I didn’t read it properly. That’s why I’m slow at reading, and yes, that doesn’t make me a proficient or successful booktuber. But it makes me a phenomenal reader.