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Books are here to stay: How TikTok is changing Gen-Z’s reading habits

The pandemic brought many things into trend on TikTok, from banana bread to workouts and surprisingly, a book revolution. In 2020, over 200 million physical books were sold, the highest number since 2012, despite bookstores being closed for most of the year. The obvious reason for this is the boredom that lockdown brought. Eventually, all of us were sick and tired of making banana bread and trying to improve ourselves so a lot of people started new hobbies. While most of them didn't stick when we all returned to normal life, reading seems to be here to stay.

I think it's an understatement to say that Gen-Z doesn't read. We're all glued to our phones most of the time and even when we want to take a break from the mini screen, we find ourselves in front of a bigger screen: our laptops, computers or TVs. I can't express the number of times I've put my phone down after scrolling through Instagram for an hour and told myself I need to take a break only to go watch YouTube on my laptop.

It was on this quest to separate myself from the small screen that I spent 8 hours a day staring into, that I discovered booktube. A small but growing community of passionate readers doing book hauls, end of month recaps, and recommendations. What fascinated me was the amount of people talking so enthusiastically about books, and how they got addicted to reading within the past 2 years since the pandemic. Most of them started making short form content on TikTok and slowly graduated to longer YouTube videos where they could fit more extensive reviews.

During lockdown, I was one of many to take up more reading, even though I was interested in it before. What I found fascinating on TikTok was the communities of people that formed either in support of a book or series or in favour of completely destroying it. I think many of us are familiar with Colleen Hoover (American author of romance and young adult fiction), either because you've read one of her many best-selling books or because you hate her profoundly for no good reason at all. Her books became viral on TikTok in 2020 along with Taylor Jenkins Reid's books. They started selling out worldwide, and I must admit that I too jumped on the trend to see what was so great about them. I read Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Hoover's It Ends With Us that year, and I came closer to understanding the need for people to escape in stories such as those.

I think our generation is desperate to belong to something. A lot of us grew up with One Direction, Vampire Diaries, Harry Potter and many other popular fandoms that changed our lives in some way. Nowadays, we can see K-pop taking over the world, and Netflix shows gaining cult followings. I believe TikTok is the one pushing many of these trends. As technology seems to be disconnecting us from each other, these trends you can participate in from the comfort of your own home bring a certain sense of belonging to a community. It's comforting seeing someone else enjoy a book you loved or finding a person who also ardently disliked a popular book just like you did.

Equally, reading is about escapism. Finding a fictional world where love succeeds and there's always a happy ending is almost therapeutic. I think our generation has lived through so many "once in a lifetime events" that we're often tired of experiencing the real world. One of the most popular genres of books on TikTok is romance. During 2021, romance sales accounted for 18% of total adult fiction sales, making romance the second highest-selling fiction category. This also makes it the most profitable genre, as it is the highest earning section of literature. No wonder our generation is obsessed with a perfect ending and love stories, as we're being exposed to it through everything we consume. People love a happy ending and I think reading helped many to escape the tragic times we lived through during the pandemic and surprisingly brought people to a new, healthy hobby.

It's definitely interesting seeing that Gen-Z prefers books written in simple language depicting light stories that are easy to digest. I think many authors like Colleen Hoover are learning that we now have an extremely short attention span and the way young people get through books is different than other generations. It's the reason fast-paced books like the Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo and many other best-selling fantasy books are so popular nowadays.

At the end of the day, reading is one of the most immersive forms of entertainment. It can bring people together through a story most of us experience alone but love to share opinions about later, either in person or virtually on TikTok. I think the reading revolution is a wonderful thing that came out of the pandemic and I'm excited to see how Gen-Z can change the future of reading.

Ioana is a student studying BA Arabic and Linguistics at the University of Leeds. She is interested in writing, journalism, and foreign languages. Her Instagram handle is @ioanahahaha.

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