About a month ago, I discovered a magical community on YouTube called BookTube. “BookTubers” make videos where they review books they’ve read, display their latest “book hauls” of the books they’ve recently purchased or received from publishers, give tours of their personal bookshelves and and generally discuss topics that are literary related. Not all of this appeals to me – it’s far less interesting to hear about the books you own/have recently bought than hearing what you’ve recently actually read and what you gained from the read, and a lot of existing BookTube content is YA related, which is not really my thing, but still, the premise about books on YouTube fascinates me.
When I first discovered BookTube I found a few people I really liked, and hearing enthusiastic people talking about books they’ve just read felt almost as nice as having a conversation with a wonderful friend who has read something amazing and wants to tell you about it. But at the same time, when I discovered BookTube one of the first thing I noticed is that it’s not a very racially and geographically diverse community – the vast majority of the people making videos about books are white, female and from North America or the UK. Though this surprised me I wasn’t sure if it mattered so much, after all, good books are good books no matter who you are right?
It turns out, no, good books are not universal. The definition of a good book is a very subjective experience. Who you are, your life experiences, your location, all these things matter and influence whether you enjoy any specific book. I just picked up three books in the last couple of weeks because of glowing recommendations on BookTube from female British white BookTubers, and though I finished one of them, none of them particularly resonated with me. The books were as follows:
Spinister by Kate Bolick:
“Whom to marry and when it will happen – these two questions define every woman’s existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn’t practice. She may grow up to love women instead of men, or to decide she simply doesn’t believe in marriage. No matter. These dual contingencies govern her until they’re answered, even if the answers are nobody and never.
Men have their own problems; this isn’t one of them.
What if a girl grew up like a boy, with marriage an abstract, someday thought, a thing to think about when she became an adult, a thing she could do, or not do, depending?
What would that look and feel like? (Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own)
The premise of this book fascinated me. I’ve been married for almost a year, so being unmarried is a much more familiar state to me than being married. Before I got married, I would get endless questions about my age, why I wasn’t married, whether I was scared about being alone forever, and why I was being so”fussy”. Normal rules of politeness and etiquette seem not to extend to conversations with single women, and in my experience, when you are single your life is seen as having not “started” yet, and as lacking, and “abnormal” in some way. (Perhaps a whole blog post needs to be devoted to this experience). So when I came across “Spinster”, I was fascinated by the idea of a book that was about singlehood as a rich fulfilling existence, and not something to be treated as an illness or a state to be pitied. But as I started the book, I realized that the author was thinking through singlehood through the writings of five white women at the turn of the century, and so I’ve abandoned the book for now. After reading “Love Illuminated” I’m craving stories by people of colour, or at least a diversity of perspectives, and I felt like this wasn’t going to be the book for me.
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer: This book interested me because I had watched an enthusiastic review of the book, watched Amanda Palmer’s TED talk about the same topic, and was curious about her love story with Neil Gaiman. I read the book diligently, but when I was about 40% of the way into the book I had to return it to the library. The book is about musician Amanda Palmer and the lessons she learnt about asking and building community in the five years she was a street artist (she was a 8 foot statue of a bride) and in the years building her band. Though I gained some things from the book, I think the talk was a good synopsis of the book, and the more I read, the less I could relate to the author as a character. Our lives are just too different. What I did gain from the book was that the act asking for help is an act of connecting with others, and that when you connect with others they want to help you. We often don’t want to ask for help though because the act of asking is an act of vulnerability.
One of the most relatable parts of the book for me was when Amanda needs help before the Kickstarter for her album begins, and she feels like she would do rather do anything else, including stopping her tour, instead of asking her husband for help. She is afraid of seeming needy or weak in front of him, and when she is able to recognize her feelings she also realizes that these feelings are the reason why so many people are hesitant to reach out to others for assistance.
This book is about how to build community and argues that art is about building a small group of people that care about your work and being grateful to those people and nurturing the relationship you have with them, instead of striving to appeal to a majority that does not know you. It’s about building and growing one conversation, one relationship at at time. It’s about being serious and committed to what you do, about being vulnerable and authentic and giving of yourself and helping others as much as you can. Because I found it a difficult book to connect with, I didn’t finish this book so I’m not sure what else was discussed, but I’m glad I gained a few gems from what I did read.
It’s Not Me It’s You by Mhairi Mcfarlane: This was a light read. I bought this book in a discount bookstore (side note: why doesn’t Joburg have discount bookstores??) in Port Elizabeth last week, and it became my companion over flights and waits in airport lounges and solo time by the beach. By the time I returned back to Joburg I finished the book. It was funny and well written and not a bad read at all, but it wasn’t a memorable book. Nothing in me changed as a result of this book, and I couldn’t relate to the situations that the main character was faced with. This book intensified my longing for books with characters that look like me and have lives similar to me, and though enjoyable, didn’t feed my soul.
From these reads, I’ve realised that the books I connect with are books suggested by people with reading tastes and lives and personalities similar to me. I recently discovered an Instagrammer called TheLiteratePassion that I love, have come across a new booktuber named ATrunkFullofBooks in India, and am slowly curating a list of interesting people of my own. Do you have names to add to the list? Would you like SeriouslyPlanning to start a Youtube Channel of its own? SP has been a space for blog conversations and audio stories and in person discussions about books, but perhaps a YouTube show would be an interesting way to talk about libraries and reading in Joburg. (I’m a bit terrified by the prospect, so please do comment if this something you’re interested in seeing/watching 🙂 ) Till next time.