A Very BookTok Summer: Podcast Episode (and Newsletter Preview)

You can listen to this podcast episode on Spotify, Apple, or anywhere you find bookish podcasts!

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So, how was your summer?

I was unemployed for much of the summer, so I spent a lot of my days when I wasn’t sending out dozens of copies of my resume, scrolling through and posting videos on BookTok. 

I’ve written about BookTok before a few times, as well as the most popular books on the platform, the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. There are a few other YA authors whose books get a lot of attention, like Leigh Bardugo and Keira Cass, but the sheer volume of videos about ACOTAR and Maas’ other series, Throne of Glass, is overwhelming.

If you spend a little more time on BookTok, you might find creators who are trying to break through the noise of ACOTAR by recommending less popular, and more diverse reads. This has been an interesting summer to be a part of Booktok. These past months were somewhat of a “wake-up call” regarding race issues for many people. And for many more, they’ve been a confirmation and revelation of these issues and circumstances they’ve been aware of and speaking on for years, and even decades. 

And like much of the book community and industry as a whole, BookTok has had to face its race problems. Like I mentioned before, a lot of BookTok content is dominated by just a few authors’ works, and many of the most popular books at best lack any significant diversity or representation, and at worst are actively harmful to marginalized people. 

But there are many creators who are discussing and recommending books with more and better representation for people of color, for queer people, for people who are differently abled, for people who are chronically ill or neurodivergent, or any other identity or intersection of identities that doesn’t get a lot of mainstream representation. And one of the best parts of my BookTok summer has been discovering and sharing these books with fellow readers. 

But just like in any movement toward progress, there are also BookTokers who are resistant to change and to broadening their reading habits. There are even several users, who I won’t name here but you can discover if you do a little digging, who have posted statements expressing their inability to relate to characters who are different from them, or their disinclination to intentionally seek out books written by authors of marginalized identities. 

I think these are two separate issues, and for the former, there’s not a lot I can say in this forum that would convince someone to change that attitude, except maybe, you should try to have more empathy. That’s actually kind of concerning to me.

But for the latter, this idea of, “I don’t care about an author’s skin color, I just read a book if it sounds good” (which, by the way, is a comment I’ve read almost verbatim, dozens of times), I think Jenna of Jenna’s Lit Picks, a fellow BookToker, said it best:

We’re not saying read bad books. We’re not saying read books of a lower caliber. We’re not saying read books that are out of the genre that you like–we’re just saying read books that are diverse… If your argument is ‘because I want to read what I want to read,’ is that intentionally exclusionary, or is it because you don’t think those authors have quality content?

Watch her video here or listen to the podcast episode to hear it.

I’ve discussed this before, but there is another problem with this line of thinking, in that the publishing industry and the book industry as a whole, like all industries, is designed to make the most money possible, not necessarily to introduce readers to an inclusive range of authors and stories. This is true in both the acquisitions and the marketing process for most major publishers.

A 2018 study by romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice, found that for every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers in 2018, only 7.7% were written by people of color. 

Another 2018 study out of Cooperative Children’s Book Center of Education (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that there were more children’s picture books published that year that featured an animal as the main character than featured a Black, Latinx, Native, or Asian main character combined. 

The publishing industry’s marketing isn’t helping matters. It’s tough to find conclusive data on this, but a 2012 study conducted by a team including author Roxane Gay found that in 2011 88% of all books reviewed by the New York Times were written by white authors. Of course the New York Times doesn’t determine everyone’s reading habits, but this is a major media outlet and an industry leader for book publicity. I unfortunately wasn’t able to find a more recent study of this nature, but 2012 isn’t really that long ago, is it?

So the bottom line here is that if you truly think it’s important to read diversely and inclusively, you have to be intentional about it. You have to seek out those voices that publishers don’t amplify. Because if you just read the books you come across organically, chances are they’re going to be mostly written by white authors.


But anyway, back to BookTok. Like I mentioned before, there are a lot of creators who are in different stages of their inclusive reading journeys, from white BookTokers who have just recently learned the importance of inclusive reading and who are looking for recommendations, to creators of color and queer creators who are finally able to see even a little bit of representation in the books they read and see discussed in the community.

Once you filter through the ACOTAR content, you’ll find a warm community of readers, diverse in age, ethnicity, and interests, who just want to discuss great books in all different genres. 

I’ve made friends with a few BookTokers–well, as good of friends as you can be with people you only know through a social media app–and I asked a few of them to share their favorite summer reads, so here they are!

Tre (@treofpaperbacks)

Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

The_titan's_curse

Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse is the third book in Rick Riordan’s bestselling fantasy adventure series.

Half Boy. Half God. ALL Hero.

It’s not every day you find yourself in combat with a half-lion, half-human.

But when you’re the son of a Greek God, it happens. And now my friend Annabeth is missing, a Goddess is in chains and only five half-blood heroes can join the quest to defeat the doomsday monster.

Oh and guess what. The Oracle has predicted that not all of us will survive . . .

 

Zahra (@arhazobooks)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

 

Michele (@michelejenn)

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

MonkeyBeach

As she races along Canada’s Douglas Channel in her speedboat—heading toward the place where her younger brother Jimmy, presumed drowned, was last seen—twenty-year-old Lisamarie Hill recalls her younger days. A volatile and precocious Native girl growing up in Kitamaat, the Haisla Indian reservation located five hundred miles north of Vancouver, Lisa came of age standing with her feet firmly planted in two different worlds: the spiritual realm of the Haisla and the sobering “real” world with its dangerous temptations of violence, drugs, and despair… But the tragedies that have scarred her life and ultimately led her to these frigid waters cannot destroy her indomitable spirit, even though the ghosts that speak to her in the night warn her that the worst may be yet to come.

 

Sarah (@acourtoffangirlsandtears)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

DiscoveryofWitches

In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar’s depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense. The story continues in book two, Shadow of Night, and concludes with The Book of Life.

 

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

 

Kat (@politik4t)

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty—until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold. When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk—grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh—Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. She will face an impossible challenge and, along with two unlikely allies, uncover a secret that threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike.

 

Deirdre (@deirdrerosemorgan)

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

To-Kill-a-Kingdom-Christo

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most–a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen and or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby–it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good–But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

 

Kerri (@kerrinotcarrieokay)

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

midnightsun

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

And here’s the 3rd grade book report style diorama Kerri made to go with her review:

diorama

 

Ellie (@1995purist)

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

littlefriend

The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet—unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson–sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. Filled with hairpin turns of plot and “a bustling, ridiculous humanity worthy of Dickens” (The New York Times Book Review), The Little Friend is a work of myriad enchantments by a writer of prodigious talent.

 

Amy (@fhslibrarian)

The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennet

vanishinghalf

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

 

Soni (@soni_kohli)

Normal People by Sally Rooney

normalpeople

Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life changing begins.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

 

Katherine (@katherinecheree)

Educated by Tara Westover

educated

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

 

Thank you so much again to all my fellow BookTokers who shared their favorite summer reads! You can hear their full reviews on the podcast.


What was my favorite book of the summer? I thought you’d never ask! It’s a tough choice, but I think my absolute favorite book I read this summer was Hafsah Faizal’s We Hunt the Flame.

A YA fantasy featuring a world inspired by Islamic culture, an epic quest and really cool magic system, a cast of unique and richly developed characters, and a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance, this book had so many great elements that gelled perfectly into an extremely satisfying whole. The only thing I’m not satisfied with is that I have to wait until January for the sequel.

I included We Hunt The Flame in my list of favorite summer reads in the September issue of the All Things Bookish Newsletter, which I just released today, September 1st. Here’s a peek at the first page:

A Life of Faith

 

Some other features in the newsletter this month are:

  • reflection questions and a space to jot down some thoughts on your own summer reading
  • recommended reads for aspiring revolutionaries
  • a collection of autumn’s essential items for book lovers–with links to places you can find them online
  • links to news stories of interest to readers
  • a list of new September book releases

If you’re subscribed to All Things Bookish, you should have your issue now. If you’re not subscribed you can do so through my Patreon.


Listen to new episodes of the Rhonda With A Book Podcast every Tuesday and get more exclusive content through Patreon.

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