The Resurgence of Leisure Reading

Girl sitting on the beach reading a book
Natalie Howarth

In a world consumed by social media, research in 2019 shows that 51% of adults in the UK read at least one book in the previous year. Children are also reading less than they used to, with fewer than 3 in 10 children and young people aged 8 to 18 saying that they read daily.  With the sad reality that reading rates are declining and with the closure of public libraries, the premise of smartphones and easy access social media have singlehandedly killed reading habits: with apps and their fast, constant stream of content, this has caused our generation to have increasingly shorter attention spans. How can a new generation be inspired to read again? How accessible can reading be? 

The rise of BookTok, a community of readers on TikTok, has popularised and made reading cool again, appealing to an audience to reinspire the act of reading. While it has got young people back into reading through the algorithms of the app recommending a user the novels based on their interests, Bloomsbury, a publishing house based in Britain, recently reported record sales [of books] and a 220% rise in profits. This is great for first-time published authors to gain a reputation and for the app’s users to create a community and celebrate authors’ works.

With the neglect of physical media and the rise of digital media, buying a physical copy of the book is satisfying, and enables the writer to continue writing and publishing their novels. This isn’t to promote the over-consumption of books due to the constantly changing interests of a person; they can be bought sustainably and second-hand. When looking for new books, it’s important to scope out independent booksellers that support diverse and upcoming artists that are beyond the periphery of the mainstream.     

As well as social media contributing to better reading habits for some, the renaissance of old television shows and films with brainy, book-loving protagonists inspire viewers to replicate their reading habits. A prime example of this type of character is Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls- her books read on the show have been transferred to reading challenges online by super fans. If you watched this show at an age of impressionability, maybe you’d be guilty of trying to imitate Rory Gilmore’s ‘extreme’ reading habits (me too)!    

The resurgence and new found love for reading in the last year is thanks to social media’s book communities

Book clubs have become a done thing for affluent celebrities who want to engage with their fans and promote good reading habits. Reese Witherspoon is someone who has the most popular book club. In high school, I attended a book club that met once a month and there were less than 10 regular members who attended: the book club was called ‘Cake and Classics’, and we read all sorts from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders; discussion prompts were usually given out prior to the discussions.

Compared to my experience nowadays of book swaps with friends and brief chatter about books, I think it can depend on how much time you are willing to dedicate to the cause.  

Celebrities with social media can undoubtedly influence an audience that idolises them and draw fans to superficial recommendations that create a false perception of a character. Instagram account @celebbookrecs has an impressive amount of celebrity book recommendations: the premise of the account is each post gives out 3-5 books that celebrities have mentioned in interviews, pictured with online or found from a review on Goodreads. The extensive research is condensed into a photo carousel of books they have mentioned that have definitely influenced me: Cate Blanchett enjoyed Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and the Margarita so I must enjoy it too! 

If it takes a celebrity to inspire a generation of readers, then that is a good thing! Reading has physical benefits including brain strength: using MRI scans, researchers have confirmed that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. As your reading ability matures, those networks also get stronger and more sophisticated. This fascinating study shows that reading increases brain connectivity, alleviates stress and depression and may even help you to live longer! Doing as little as 15 minutes a day of reading proves to make a huge difference. 

 Finally, the resurgence and new-found love for reading in the last year is undoubtedly thanks to social media’s book communities like BookTok. The essence of popular media and their constant change has enabled for this change of heart for those who have struggled to read and find a book that suits them. 

Natalie Howarth

Featured image courtesy of Constantin Panagopoulos via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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