TikTok is known for its plethora of communities – one of the most popular being BookTok. BookTok is full of videos recommending books but it also serves to create a space where people can bond over books together. BookTok has also been responsible for a surge in the reading of romance novels – and not only that, but the ending of the stigma.
Romance novels have always been a source of mockery for their readers. Now, don’t get it twisted – there is something there to poke fun at. The predictable titles, the shirtless man on the cover, the euphemisms for certain body parts (“velvet wrapped steel”, anyone?). It has been pointed out that much of the criticism for romance novels and the genre in general does stem from the fact that they are mostly enjoyed by women. However, can you fault women for enjoying them, for choosing them as their form of escapism?
Culturally, women are told to push themselves to the side and in heterosexual relationships, to put the man first. So why wouldn’t a woman not love to lose herself in a world where she is put at the forefront, both romantically and sexually?
BookTok has allowed women to share their passion for the romance genre without fear of shame, to talk about their favorite tropes, to find similar books that they can fall in love with (pun intended). Now criticism has continued, one large criticism being: “Why is it okay for you to brag about the porn you read?”
The counterargument? Romance novels aren’t porn. Sure, they have explicit content in them (or at least the good ones do), but they have a plot surrounding them. Rather than pornography seen online, the plot does not exist simply as the appetizer with the explicit content being the main dish. Instead, it is the relationship found between the two protagonists which is only bolstered by sex scenes. As any avid reader of romance will tell you, nothing kills the story more than a fade-to-black scene, with the next chapter starting off the next morning. It feels unrealistic and kills off any payoff of the tension that has been building. That isn’t to say that every book with a romantic subplot should include sex scenes galore, but when the focus of a narrative is the romance, readers do expect some payoff (and some excitement).
So what is it about BookTok that has allowed readers of romance to finally step out of the light, giving the genre the respect it deserves? As with anything else, it is assuring to see that other people do or enjoy the thing that you do or enjoy. When one creator makes a video about their favorite romance books, and the comments are filled with people’s excitement and recommendations, all of them jumping in with their support, it allows someone else to feel better about something they may have been mocked for.
Communities foster a sense of belonging, whether they focus on something as major as a cultural identity, or something as minor as the genre of books you enjoy. Everyone wants to feel like they belong and don’t want to feel shamed for the things they enjoy.
This isn’t to say that I’m suddenly ready to read a book with a bare-chested man on the cover out in public, but it is to say that I’m now comfortable with admitting to friends what it is I’m reading.
And Mom, if you’re reading this? Let’s just keep the questions to a minimum, for both of our sakes.