Where reading and social media collide


courtesy Karen Melchior

A stand at Linden Tree Books showcases the latest trending novels. As social media’s role in reading increases, so does the mark it leaves on local bookstores.

In an era where social media is the wizard behind the curtain dictating popular culture, a few local bookstores have modernized enough to stay afloat. 

When readers enter stores such as Linden Tree Books or Books Inc., what they find might stray from tradition. Promotional stands inspired by social media trends litter the displays, and books that have garnered attention on platforms like TikTok are found at every corner.

Linden Tree employee Mihika Topiwala, who has worked there since October 2021, says the key is marketing books that have already gained virality through social media. 

Books such as “It Ends With Us” and “The Spanish Love Deception,” have skyrocketed in popularity in the past year, because of how seamlessly they fit with what teens and adults often want in a story. Although at times outdated and misogynistic in subject matter, books such as these are adventurous, risque and become sensations due to their marketable cliches and over-the-top romantic plotlines. 

“The Summer I Turned Pretty,” is another example of a TikTok-famous novel that has become a staple in bookstores — a consequence of the success of its hit TV adaptation. The show was practically tied with a bow for teenage audiences, revolving around a girl’s summer love triangle with two brothers. 

Whether through clicks or TV adaptations, getting attention online is paramount when it comes to selling a book.  

Linden Tree’s “He’s a 10 but…” shelf is a highlight. At the store’s back entrance is a stand mimicking the popular TikTok trend where users rank a person from one to ten based on a certain characteristic. These characteristics are usually cliquey and archetypal — is the person conventionally attractive, toxic, popular, and so forth; the popularity of the stand attests to teenage employees’ unique insights into what young people look for when they go book shopping. 

Books Inc.’s “Taylor Swift Songs as Book Recommendations” stand was adopted because of the recent hype surrounding Swift and her music. Enshrined in the middle of the store, the stand offers readers book counterparts to famous Taylor Swift songs. If you like “Illicit Affairs,” an impassioned song about clandestine romance, then Books Inc. says you should try Sally Rooney’s “Normal People.” Simplifying books as well as music to make them marketable has become the norm in bookselling — Topiwala describes it as “reducing books to tropes or aesthetics.” 

The symbiotic relationship between reading and social media comes with pitfalls, namely, the problematic messages that viral books oftentimes send. 

“It makes books seem so much more factory-made and produced,” Topiwala says. 

Because tropey, manufactured stories are what sells, they are consequently what is bought and sold in droves to young adults. Books made for the purpose of fitting a trope can have damaging effects on young or newer readers, as they oftentimes romanticize toxic relationships or normalize questionable standards for consent and boundaries. After all, if new-age authors are simply selling a product, what sells better than shock value?

“Media does affect reality, reading about toxic tropes can distort your personal idea of love,” Topiwala continues.

Readers being subjected to literature that sends harmful messages has real-world consequences. TikTok-famous author Colleen Hoover has been criticized for her works’ portrayal of romantic relationships; her novel’s main relationships are often controlling or dependent, and female characters are repeatedly mistreated or pigeonholed. Take Hoover’s “November 9,” where protagonist Ben says in regards to his love interest: “I’ve never wanted to use physical force on a girl before, but I want to push her to the ground and hold her there until the cab drives away.” 

Even with such boldly uncomfortable themes, the novel has left its mark on apps like TikTok. 

On the flip side of the coin, the reading frenzy on the internet has increased the number of teenagers that are picking up books. Blooming bookworms are finding themselves reading more enthusiastically than ever before, all due to social media and its iron grip on what teens like and don’t.

The perfect recipe for a good book is ever-changing, because as trends float in and out of obscurity, so do novels. Keeping up with it all is akin to navigating a cave without a flashlight, but local bookstores have done just that by paying attention to the man behind the curtain.