Friday, June 18, 2021

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie; or, My Problem with Bookstagram

hours spent at the library

Summer has always felt like the best time to tackle big books that I've been meaning to read. Long stretches of empty time spread like a blanket before me while I lounge at the pool or beach. Lazy afternoons with nothing to do until dinner lend themselves well to books with high page counts.

I've taken on War and Peace, East of Eden, and The Goldfinch in the hottest months of the year. This summer may be record-breaking for page counts for me. I've started four books that are over 400 pages and I'm moving (slow but steady) through two 700+ page novels. 

I love getting completely lost in the disparate worlds of each of these books but at the same time, I'm fretting over my monthly reading totals which will surely drop thanks to all of these bricks I'm reading. 

I get annoyed with long chapters or solid pages of text, where dense paragraphs seem to roll on endlessly, or at least onto the next page. These things slow me down and I do not want to be slowed down.

But here's the tricky part...I'm actually enjoying these books, like, a lot. I look forward to picking up each one and find myself immersed in the stories and marveling at how authors can use such different styles and still take my breath away. So why can't I just relax and enjoy this good luck? 

I'll tell you why: Bookstagram.

from my Bookstagram account

I have a personal Instagram account where I share photos of my kids and only accept friend requests from people I know IRL. But a couple of years ago I made a Bookstagram account. It's just a regular account that is public, where I post all things bookish and keep the personal information to a minimum. I follow other Bookstagram accounts, publishers, booksellers, and book bloggers. 

At first, it was really fun. It was all bookish enthusiasm and earnestness about well-loved books. But slowly it began to eat away at my reading life.

It started with book influencers peddling books they hadn't read for publishers who sent them free copies. I quickly learned to read posts carefully so I could tell if this person had actually read the book they were raving about or not, but I still get fooled sometimes.

I began to notice that I was feeling pressured to join "read alongs" with my favorite Bookstagramers, buying buzzy books because of the sheer volume of posts I was seeing, and changing my reading to accommodate poetry month, "non-fiction-November", and various other monthly reading challenges. 

TBR, not the books I read in June

I read to learn and I don't need a social media app to remind me to read different genres, themes, and a variety of authors from wide-ranging experiences. It's true that I have found some books that have taught me important things and broadened my worldview, that I wouldn't have known about except through Bookstagram, but those came from personal conversations from a few Bookstagrammers that I have built friendships with, not from the frantic peer pressure that springs up every month.

The end of the month book totals are depressing, too. Bookstagrammers lover to flex what they read by posting all the covers of the books they read that month displayed in a single image. I get it, some people read a lot more than me (these are the ones who one who reads less than me, or the same as me, posts...), and that's ok. But it really takes the wind out of your reading sails to see people completing 20-25 books a month. 

reading in Kauai

When I reflect on why I'm feeling twitchy as I read, I think it's the net effect of the Bookstagram influence. So for the next few weeks, I'm going to limit my time on that app and prune the people who I follow. When I do these two things I find I read more and care less about Bookstagram and more about if I'm enjoying the books I read. I also find myself back in the driver's seat, choosing what I read and why and when. This is a hobby I do for joy, relaxation, fun, and learning so I should get to be the boss of it.

******Disclaimer: Bookstagram isn't the devil. Consumed in small doses with a healthy frame of mind it can be really fun and rewarding. I have found friends from all over the world on Bookstagram who are my absolute favorite follows. But approach it with caution because it can quickly get out of hand.

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