One of the perils of writing about books online is the inevitable pull (and general expectation) toward some degree of social media engagement. I’ve been writing on The Book Habit on-and-off since 2013 and have found that, over time, I’ve become more active in various parts of the book-loving community. Being able to communicate with other bibliophiles – to receive recommendations or just engage in some general bookish discussion – is an important aspect of what the internet offers. We can hone in on those communities with which we share common interests and eliminate so much of the ‘panning for gold’ that can be part of forming relationships in real life. However, there is an inevitable impact on the way that we do things, as well as how we feel about our own choices.
As with all social media, things like #bookstagram present a pretty one-dimensional idea of what reading ‘should’ be. This is not to say that any one individual, including myself, sets out to give an impression that reading ‘looks’ a certain way. However, the cumulative effect of mass social media consumption can be one in which we feel that there’s a need to read particular kinds of books or follow the hottest literary trends. Even in book-related photos, there’s a tendency to offer up a vision of ‘the reader’ that quite clearly doesn’t reflect a complete reality. We don’t, after all, read eternally surrounded by fairy lights. Nor will Wuthering Heights honestly suit everyone’s literary preferences, however much we’re given the idea that reading these books is the ‘correct’ way to be a bibliophile. While I work to keep my representation of myself and my habits pretty true to life, there’s an obvious degree of modification that takes place in order to distill a certain aesthetic into photos and brief ‘status’ updates (my dog definitely doesn’t look so angelic and patient as Instagram might lead you to believe). The way that I tend to account for this, and ensure that what/how I read stays true to myself, is by viewing social media as an extension – albeit a relatively narrow one – of the authenticity that I’ve cultivated on The Book Habit.
Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook all offer valuable opportunities to connect with others – since I’ve spent the past 12 years moving regularly, I fully appreciate what this kind of connection can bring. However, it’s so important to bear in mind that – even when it’s just about books – you are never getting a complete picture. This connects back to my bibliotherapy series and the point that I try to emphasise about using recommendations as a starting point from which to develop your own reading strategy. Book preferences are such an individual choice and we run the risk of departing from what we truly love when we read for the sake of projecting an image or conforming to an idea. Embraced in the right way, however, social media can be an incredible opportunity to communicate, get creative, and perhaps explore new areas of literature that you didn’t know you’d love.