I have loved reading my entire life. Harry Potter was the first series that I adored and became slightly obsessed with. With that being said, my book choices have matured as I have grown older, however, a good romance novel is something I have always, and will always enjoy. However, sometimes it’s hard to find good recommendations or book options when the options are so endless. Then, there was the creation of “Booktok.”
Many frequent users of TikTok are aware of the term “Booktok,” which is a nickname for TikToks’ pertaining to books that have gained traction and then are shared on TikTok. However, to take it a step further, people have created fan art, videos of acting, and roleplaying surrounding these books and their plots. Some of the most famous authors and their novels are Colleen Hoover (who I would argue is the most talked about the author on BookTok), Ali Hazelwood, Sarah J. Maas, and many more. The theme of these books is spicy romance filled with smut and often fantasy. To answer the question of “what is smut?” for those who are unfamiliar, Urban Dictionary defines it as “written sex, like in fanfictions” (Urban Dictionary, 2018).
What is the common theme of these books and why are women obsessing over them?
Being a college-aged woman at a public university, the dating world is HARD. Social media is deceiving, dating apps can get icky really fast, and meeting people can be so uncomfortable. So what is the natural response for so many when their dating life is dry? Read spicy romance novels that feed your hopeless romantic soul. These authors mentioned previously have created fictional men and women that you cannot help but fall in love with. Their irresistible charm and charisma are a deadly combo that leaves their readers wishing it was their reality.
The harm with these novels and the obsession surrounding them is that they tend to have the common themes of domestic violence, enemies-to-lovers tropes, inappropriate relationships, and so much more. Ali Hazelwood’s book, The Love Hypothesis, it follows a female lead named Olive who is falling for her professor, Adam, and how their relationship (legal) is only being used for the public eye and is not real. However, they fall deeply in love with one another and end up together but deeply hurt each other in the process with lies and deception. Not to mention, the “love story” unfolded because Olive kissed Adam (her professor) in the hall randomly and he even alluded to it being assault because it was not consensual (he was joking, but he is not wrong). Many, including myself, adored this book and the plotline, but after further reflection, I realize the expectations this can create for someone reading this plot and wishing it was them. This is the common theme I am seeing, never being satisfied because real-life lovers and romance are never as good as they are in books.
This is an example of a TikTok that describes the obsession and fantasizing that comes with these books and romanticizing them.
Now this is not saying romance novels and reading smut and fantasy is a bad idea or will always lead to a false sense of reality in the dating world, but it does create a new layer of expectations and ideas that are not always realistic. Another layer to “Booktok” is the romanticizing of abusive or hurtful relationships. This is the narrative I worry goes against feminist views as it is usually the female character that is receiving the aggressive, sometimes abusive, and dismissive end of the relationship. This is not always the case, but a lot of the time it is. In the famous novel and movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, written by E. L. James the main characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey enter into a relationship that is full of violence, lies, deception, and intimacy struggles. This classic story of the “bad boy” falling in love with the “good girl” is seen time and time again and accounts on TikTok are really romanticizing it.
BookTok is a really great outlet to get recommendations, converse with others who love reading, and just a great place to let your thoughts on the fantasy worlds people often enter into when they read. It is important to proceed with caution just like with anything when consuming the media you do and make sure your standards and ideas are still in line with yours.