TikTok Table and Reading Exclusivity

By Rebecca Lockwood

The response to the TikTok Table shows people still believe reading to be exclusive.

A photograph of a book table marketing bestsellers underneath ‘As Seen on TikTok’ went viral recently. Great! You might think, kids are being encouraged to branch out of their reading comfort zones with the reassurance of it being widely appreciated on a super accessible, often fun, app! Not quite.

I don’t know why I’m surprised: the table instead went viral with a grimace, a twisted snarl and a clenched fist. In a since deleted Tweet, a Twitter user screamed “how on earth have we come to this!” I suppose it’s quite funny to imagine a grown human being totally enraged by TikTok having any relation to books (funny in a wow humans never cease to amaze me in their level of pettiness way) but twitter’s response – thousands of likes and even more retweets – was alarming. The response to books being marketed alongside TikTok shows one thing: people still believe reading to be an exclusive pastime. 

This belief is rooted in centuries-old classism – that to read and digest a book, you have to fit certain criteria. In previous worlds, that criteria would have been your social class, your education or your gender – in today’s world, clearly many believe that criteria is not being on TikTok. And what does that say about who we believe is entitled to literature? 

TikTok: a free app for creators, albeit a service only accessible to those who can afford the right device, is widely available globally. Over the past year, we’ve seen TikTok become a place to entertain but also a place to educate and inform. Its creator’s relationship with books, see #booktok, has also meant that disengaged readers have found a new enthusiasm for books – disengaged readers as in, people who have not read anything in a month, a year or ever. TikTok’s ability to introduce literature to the lives of people who felt that literature was not for them is one of its greatest achievements, and we should be concerned that there are people happy to turn their nose up at a type of person seen to want to read.

In his book, Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt Haig says that we read for one of two reasons: to escape or to find ourselves, but then argues that we do it for both reasons. Everyone should be encouraged to do both of those things. Everybody who is lucky enough to be able to read, should. Escaping, or finding versions of yourself to relate to, is not an exclusive sport. I hope all bookstores introduce a TikTok Table.

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