To Read or Not to Read? 

Controversial GQ Article Sends BookTok Users into Rampage 

By Gretchen Lembcke-Pena, Editor-in-Chief 

GQ recently published an article by former BookTuber Barry Pierce criticizing BookTok. Members of the book community were not pleased. 

Book Tiktok, also known as BookTok, is a community of readers on TikTok who upload content like book recommendations, reading vlogs, book tours, news in the book publishing industry and more.  

The community has been gaining a lot of traction lately, with videos getting up to 14 million views. Due to its popularity, it is no surprise that an article criticizing the community would also gain popularity. 

“It became my latest obsession in much the same way that one might become obsessed with sticking your tongue in plug sockets,” said Pierce. “It was like entering a parallel universe where reading wasn’t just something that someone did for fun; it was a lifestyle, an aesthetic, people were ‘readers’ like Lorraine Kelly is ‘Lorraine Kelly.’” 

Pierce goes on to explain the commercialization of books via TikTok, the abuse of sticky tabs in books, people expressing how they own hundreds of unread books and people caring more about the aesthetic of their bookshelves than actually bothering to read them.  

Pierce labels BookTok as a shallow place characterized by consumerism and the aesthetic of being a reader rather than investing time into reading. The community claims his statements are in black and white rather than allowing room for nuance. 

“While yes, books are meant to be read, they can also be collected, displayed, and loved in a variety of ways,” said BookToker @kevintnorman. “But what this article fails to mention is how powerful this community is because it’s raised the voices of marginalized authors, it’s saved bookstores and because of BookTok, we have proven to publishers that diverse stories are wanted and now more and more are being published.” 

Pierce claims he left BookTube, also known as Book Youtube, because the community has “become overrun with commercialism.” He goes on to say how several BookTubers became “pawns in the hands of publishing houses,” and how the act of reading became the aesthetic of being a reader.  

Journalist and BookToker Elena, also known as @loislanea, criticized the content and structure of the article. 

“First of all, this is not labeled as an opinion piece, which it should be, because there is no factual data referenced in this piece,” said Elena. “The only data that he uses is his own For You page on TikTok, which is dictated by each user.” 

On Feb. 15, Pierce responded on Twitter. 

“The defensiveness of BookTok has been really fascinating. Why are they all so quick to pounce? Why do they feel they have to justify what they’re ‘really’ reading?” said Pierce. “I think after two weeks of watching all this happen, basically reading and watching every response that my piece has had, I can surmise one major thing about BookTok — they are all huge virgins.” 

Despite his response, the criticism continues, and it seems BookTokers have no plans to stop anytime soon. 

BookTok books section at Barnes & Noble. Photo/WHNT. 
BookTokers talking about their recent reads. Photo/@limmadi8 @kevintnormanand @shaelorend. 
Author of the article, Barry Pierce. Photo/Barry Pierce 

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