When asked how they became part of BookTube—that is, the YouTube community who vlog about book reviews and commentary—the four panelists on BookCon’s “The Evolution of BookTube” talk had the same answer: “We didn’t have a lot of people win our lives we could talk to books about,” said Kat O’Keeffe (Katytastic on BookTube). “We turned to cameras, and people started watching the videos.”
“And more people started to watch!” Christine Riccio (polandbananasBOOKS) chimed in. This sense of finding one’s community of fellow readers on the internet also guided Jesse George (jessethereader) and Natasha Polis (tashapolis); Natasha also pointed out that the difference between a book review and a BookTube vlog is the warm, fuzzy feeling you get seeing someone else as excited about a book as you are. It was fitting, then, that one of the most fun questions of the panel tapped into the question-turned-meme that’s been on everyone’s Facebook walls and Twitter timelines in the past few weeks: If you could describe yourself in three fictional characters, what would they be?
Jesse couldn’t resist choosing a character from Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, one of his favorite books:
- Simon Lewis (The Mortal Instruments, Shadowhunters)
- Jacob (Miss Peregrine)
- Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter)
Christine joked that she wanted to include the cast of Friends as one of the three, but if she really had to choose one…
- SpongeBob Squarepants (SpongeBob SquarePants)
- Chandler Bing (Friends)
- Dory (Finding Nemo, Finding Dory)
Natasha could only come up with two, but her Once Upon a Time pick garnered the most applause:
- Isabelle Lightwood (The Mortal Instruments, Shadowhunters)
- Regina (Once Upon a Time)
Like Jesse, Kat pulled from her favorite author—Rainbow Rowell’s—body of work:
- Cath (Fangirl)
- Baz (Carry On)
- April Ludgate (Parks and Recreation)
While BookTube has been described as the fastest-growing community on YouTube, the panel joked that it wasn’t always that way: “I grew [my channel] through sheer force of will!” Christine joked. But with dozens and dozens of big-screen adaptations bringing in new fans who turn to the books before or after the accompanying movie or TV show, books are part of mainstream pop culture again. “You’re no longer the weird nerdy kid if you want to read books,” Kat said.
The panel discussed the biggest changes they’d experienced since they began BookTubing, with the consensus being that it has changed the way that they read books. “I never took notes while reading before,” Kat commented, saying that she either had to write down her favorite moments or film a video right after finishing a book.
“I start thinking about the author more while reading their books, and I start thinking about their personality,” Natasha said. “We get to meet these authors, and it’s an amazing opportunity for us. But then we start getting to know them and wondering who do these personalities fit into these books.” Another trend among the group was listening to audiobooks so they can catch up on reading while doing laundry or chores and running errands.
And what does the future of BookTube hold? “I think we had our biggest growth spurt,” Kat said. “I don’t think we’re gonna have another huge explosion, but I think BookTube is gonna continue to grow.” There are similar thriving communities on Tumblr (called “booklrs”) and even on new social media platforms like Snapchat, with growing crossover between these sites and BookTube. In addition, BookTube is developing its own subcultures: Jesse said that while he loves YA, he sees BookTube continuing to grow with sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book/graphic novel BookTubers. (We have a whole list of them here!)
“As BookTube as a generation gets older,” Christine said, “a lot of us want to write. We’ve always wanted to write.” Natasha commented that it would be “so cool” if they held a similar panel in a few years and some of the four had books published.
A personal reason for encouraging the changing face of BookTube is the identity crisis shared by many BookTubers: Can you be a BookTuber and an author, or a BookTuber and a YouTuber? (A Thousand Lives of Daisy posted a vlog summing up this dilemma in 2015.) Kat has been suffering from exactly this lately, as she recently went a month and a half without uploading any videos. Like many of her peers, she started out passionate about being an author, then discovered BookTube; she commented that there can be backlash toward BookTubers who want to be authors. But for the moment, she gets around that identity crisis with a separate vlog channel where she can post about cooking dinner or other activities that have nothing to do with reading and reviewing books.
Natasha, who entered the BookTube sphere a few years after the others, has found that “I’ve been able to marry my passions with fashion and makeup and books.” And even with these disparate interests, she explained, there’s still a common thread: “I love stories, I love being a fangirl. That’s essentially where my heart is—being a fangirl, reading these stories, making my art in other places.”
The panelists also shared which book series they’ve followed from the very beginning, that hold a special place in their hearts. Christine and Kat both grew up reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; Jesse has never read the Potter books, but had the same experience reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
The panel ended on everyone’s favorite part of BookTube, a question that again inspired a unanimous response: the collaboration, and the friendship. “It’s really the real-life aspect” of attending events like BookCon and meeting fans and fellow readers, Kat said.
“It’s really nice having these friends,” Natasha said. “I talk to you guys almost every single day. It’s nice having book friends. We all read the same things, we have stuff to discuss, we have the same problems.”
And of course, it all comes back to recommendations, as Kat summed it up: “We can yell at each other to read certain books!”
Top image via @thebookcon