by Holly Lawley
In an online world that increasingly engages us in fiery yet futile debates, are Instagram book clubs the perfect antidote? These social media utopias inspire members to share their bookish enthusiasm by restoring “lively debate, passionate discussion, intellectual curiosity, and respectful interactions” to online conversation. But as the digital age transforms us into skim readers and avid followers of The Daily Me, how can Instagram book clubs make deep reading, critical analysis and respect for different perspectives appealing again?
Reading, scrolling, listening, and watching: Instagram book clubs are altering how we discuss literature online. Without the commitment of regular meetings, clubs employ innovative methods to attract members and keep readers engaged online. Our Shared Shelf, Banging Book Club, and even the University of York English department’s The Quiet Place all offer a variety of extra content such as Goodreads groups, podcasts, and author interviews for members to enjoy.
Engagement aside, the accessibility of the Instagram book club is significant to their popularity and success. They set up an inclusive, often global, community that cannot be replicated offline. Reading is transformed from a purely solitary activity to a shared experience online.
So why do book clubs thrive on Instagram? The platform’s impact on the publishing industry revealed itself in 2017’s poetry sales but the book clubs’ influence is far more subtle. In her book, Words Onscreen, Naomi S. Baron argues that “in a world where more than a billion people are on Facebook, the pendulum has swung to literacy being a public act”. Posting on Instagram is more than just a social performance. #ShareYourShelf and #shelfie illustrate the picture-perfect importance of displaying your bookshelf aesthetically. Whilst members are not concerned with aesthetics alone, you’d be hard pressed to find an eReader shared on a clubs’ feed.
The revival of the paperback coincides with the popularity of Instagram book clubs and growing talk of screen fatigue. Coincidental perhaps, but the ironic emphasis on the physicality of reading, uninterrupted by phones, is at the heart of these clubs – something Emma Roberts is eager to express with her book club, Belletrist.
For members, the monthly book recommendation is just the beginning. Comments on social media reveal they feel reinvorigated and inspired to read again and are both encouraged and keen to share their own recommendations outside of the book club framework.
It’s clear that Instagram book clubs are paradoxically using social media’s addictive qualities (and serious book FOMO) to inspire you to pick up a book. We are repeatedly told that reading has massive benefits for our health, employability, and even emotional intelligence and empathy. Baron confirms “reading serious fiction makes you more empathetic and socially perceptive than reading light fiction – or not reading at all”.
The benefits of reading are the antithesis to what social media is doing to us. By encouraging hundreds of thousands of followers to switch off and read up, Instagram book clubs are denouncing social media’s toxicities.