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In defence of bookstagram

Debasing and ridiculing bookstagram has been a fashionable trend lately, as fashionable as some vogues the authors of  some despicable articles criticize. It hurts to give publicity to those articles but if you’re a bookstagrammer, you may want to read this and this pages. I feel, though, that I need to copy and paste this sentence from The Guardian, that, yes, is meant to show how intellectually superior we think we are: “When did novels become cool? When they stopped being popular. It’s a signifier of sensitivity and intellectual achievement to read a novel, remember, when you could be playing with your phone or watching Netflix.” Wheeeeeere to start? I’m puzzled to see that among all the trends, tendencies and niches on Instagram, those authors chose to launch an attack on us, passionate readers. That they chose to debase and mock a hobby that, indeed, celebrates reading. That they stereotyped and reduced a whole, a huge, a diverse community,  based on just some posts, and supposed that spreading ourselves on books is the only ‘thing’ we ever do. That they go as far as supposing that we don’t actually read. Well, Vulture, The Guardian, let me tell you a different story about bookstagram.

Bookstagram is an incredible community, where, behind the safety of anonymity, you can post reviews you’d never dare show anyone in your life, be it your teachers, your friends (because most of them don’t like books anyway), or your family. Bookstagram is a welcoming community where everyone is accepted just as they are, and yes it’s a virtual space, but it is important for us that here, we can say and be what we want to say and be.

Bookstagram is diverse. You will indeed find big accounts in which young women show their (sometimes tattooed, though I’m not sure what the problem is for the author of the Vulture article) legs or arms artfully spread on books with meaningless captions that just wish us a happy week-end (which is still more pleasant than a dispiriting article saying we’ve consumed all the resources planet Earth could offer us this year, after all) . Yes, this practice exists, and it’s not the most interesting aspect of bookstagram. But you will also find accounts where young women fiercely advocate for social, racial or gender justice,  and even raise funds for campaigns to support female homeless people or mental health associations. If you haven’t met Sara Jayne or Emily, to name just two of these awesome women, you have NO RIGHT to say that bookstagram is a vapid community.

Abbey’s discussion on the erasure of female voices. © @theopenbookshelf
Abbey’s discussion on the erasure of female voices. @theopenbookshelf ©

On bookstagram, you’ll also find accounts where people discuss topics ranging from contemporary society, to the art of writing, women’s depiction throughout history or the erasure of their voicesthe problems transgender people face on a daily basis, or cultural differences and what they reveal about ourselves and our societies. I’m thinking here, particularly, about the amazing Abbey (@theopenbookshelf), the ever fascinating Simon (@bookishsimon) or @sarahs89reads who created along with @paperbacking a weekly discussion on feminist topics (checkout #OurDaughtersDaughtersSociety if interested).

Never heard of them? Well sure, they are not some of those bookstagram stars that limit their captions to “hi lovelies”, and they are smaller than the “hi lovelies” accounts so it takes some research to find these gems. But that’s what I reproach the authors of those articles: there is more to bookstagram than just its facade. No, we don’t all just spread ourselves on open books.

On the prickly question of public toilets for transgender people. @bookishsimon ©
Oni @booksandcoffeestains
@booksandcoffeestains’ review of Washington Black. @booksandcoffeestains ©

On bookstagram, we all love books, and if your thing is book reviews and book reviews only, then let me give you some recommendations that will convince you that we are not just here to “signify our intellectual achievement” or superiority. First, you MUST head to Oni’s account, @booksandcoffeestains. Oni is one of the first bookstagrammers I followed and more than a year later, she still manages to astonish me with the beauty and accuracy of her writing, the brightness and depth of her reviews, the strength of the points she makes when she criticizes a book (positively or negatively, but always respectfully).  Also, I’m still mourning the fact that she’s not part of the literary academic world.

@but_i_thought about the Man Booker Prize shortlist. @but_i_thought ©

Very close to Oni’s style is @but_i_thought‘s account. Her reviews are always extremely sensitive, clever, deep, well thought out and personal. She speaks her mind and analyses books with a scrutinizing eye, no matter the hype around them. Oh, and what about @kenyanbibliophile! Ever heard of her? Well, you should have. She’s no “hi lovely”, Fifi, she’s fierce and honest in her reviews, she hates and loves passionately, and always with good reasons that she details in her gripping reviews.

Also, how could I not quote my good friend Mariam at @mksreading? She reads at an incredible speed and her reviews are always so on point! She even does IGTV reviews and I’m telling you, she will get you hooked as she analyses the plot, the characters development, the writing & narrative style, and the credibility of each and every book with a compelling precision. You want more? Why not head to the reviews of @bookish.soph,  who also has a meticulous critical mind and a confident way of putting her thoughts into words? And let me not forget @sofia_reading, who, as a PhD candidate (and loving mother of three, how she organises her busy life is a mystery to me), never misses an occasion to share with us her latest bookish discoveries on Muslim women, racial biases or simply the last novel she read (that may or may not be part of the book club she founded in Leeds, because, yes, that’s what Sofia does). 

And here, you only have the tiniest glimpse of what bookstagram is and can be. @vapourofthoughts,  @frenchflaps_and_deckleedges, @bluestockingbookshelf, @the.intellectual, @reading.far.and.wide, @kevinsreadfeed, @booklempt.gyal, @booksandrhymes, @literandra_ , @colourlit_uk are yet other bookstagrammers that I could talk about at length, and with each new name, I think of another person I could have quoted, but I follow 198 people so I’m not going to make a list here, and I apologize for those of you I haven’t mentioned.

Mostly, what I mean to say is that bookstagram is a community of book loving people and each has a different way of loving books. Some take pictures with their cups of tea or coffee, some review them (some do both because guess what, cups and mugs don’t make you ineffective at writing reviews!), some launch sociological or purely bookish debates, but it’s always because we have read books that have sparkled something in our minds, and how could this be reprehensible and ridiculous? Some plan their reads every month, some are mood readers; some are fast readers, some are slow readers: and we all share our monthly wrap-ups joyfully, because if we sometimes disagree on books, we all agree that we are not here to make a competition. For the vast majority of us, bookstagram is not about numbers (and, personal advertisement moment, @reading.far.and.wide and I (@juliabrary) created this merry hashtag, #SmallAndProudBookWrapUps, for slow readers to be confident about sharing wrap-ups of 2 or 3 books “only”!).

Bookstagram helped me out of a burnout last year. After years of required readings, it allowed me to choose the books I wanted to read, to let my curiosity be kindled by a well-written review and to read out of my comfort zone. Thanks to bookstagram, I have started to read non-fiction (oh, talking about non fiction, please go visit @radical_reading and @nonfirqtion‘s pages!), which I thought would be absolutely impossible for me before. I have read more books in one year than I had in a very long time. I have started putting to use the skills my studies of literature help me shape during all those years. I have even dare to open this little blog and humbly publish my own reviews, which little by little reconcile me with the freaking writer’s block that I experience each time I think that I have a PhD dissertation to write.

@reading.far.and.wide ©

And finally, bookstagram has made me meet people from around the world. I follow people from the US, from Hungary, India, Denmark, Tunisia, the UK, Argentina, the Netherlands… I have weaved friendships that are real. I have met some of these young women in real life and discovered that we could talk for hours, just as we do online. I’m planning to go to Budapest to finish my conversation(s) with Reka (@reading.far.and.wide). I have discovered that I am not the only weirdo who takes a book to the cinema or to a party, “just in case”, but that there are thousands of us scattered around the planet. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who reads way past my bedtime, who cries, who gasps, who wants to throw books by the window, who “awww” when I read. I’ve discovered people who are willing and happy to discuss these reactions that reading triggers in us, and since then, I harass my boyfriend a little less with my reading (I’m pretty sure even he is grateful for bookstagram!).

Bookstagram is a safe space where clever people discuss the interests of books. Not all of them will fit your taste but surely, if you love reading and dive into this community, you’ll find people who’ll welcome you. Look for them instead of bashing the few that you disliked.

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