Is reading the latest social media flex?


Can you say #blessed?

Personally, bunkering down in iso has been the opportunity I needed to finally read the book that’s been earning its keep as an expensive coaster on my bedside table, and it seems like I’m not alone.

From celebrities to that-girl-I-went-to-high-school-with-but-never-actually-spoke-to, I’ve seen more stacks of books on the gram than a coffee table sees in a lifetime.

In the past, finding a good book recommendation meant sifting through the pages of my favourite magazine. Now, I’m overwhelmed with the number of titles on my “must-read” list, all compiled from a scroll through social media.

The rise of the celebrity book club has certainly helped in changing the perception of reading from ‘introvert’s pastime’ to an enviable personality trait. While the book clubs of previous generations conjure images of grandmas sharing scones and tea, this is no longer the case.

We’re now blessed with countless titles endorsed by actors, producers and comedians who have added ‘book club founder’ to their already impressive resumes. Oprah, Emma Watson, Florence Welch and Sarah Jessica Parker are just some of the female powerhouses who have helped make reading cool again.

Younger generations seem to have embraced this reading resurgence, with the eighteen-year-old heir of Cindy Crawford, Kaia Gerber, recently posting a story listing the titles of 18 books she’d read during quarantine.

However, it seems the line between simply recommending books and bragging about your reading choices and ability is a fine one. Finishing with the line “these are just some that have spoken to me”, Gerber’s post received equal parts scrutiny as it did praise, with some questioning whether it was even possible to read that many books of such complexity in the timeframe she suggested.

Flexing on social media is no new concept. We’ve all seen it and we’ve probably all indulged in a subtle brag at some point. New cars, designer bags and fancy dinners are the usual suspects.

But times they are a-changin’, and with bougie holidays off the cards for a while yet, sweeping views of picturesque holiday scenery has been replaced by panning footage of a colour-coded bookshelf (and my inner neat freak loves it).

But just because showcasing your book of choice is more of a humblebrag, does it make it any more truthful than other social media flexes?

It’s widely accepted that classic social media flexes are reserved for the very best aspects of people’s lives. While the photo in front of a sold sign is a necessity for first home buyers, there’s nothing to pay homage to the countless mornings of sad-looking weetbix and watery instant coffee endured to save that deposit.

While transparency is increasing, on the whole, it’s still the image that we wish to portray of ourselves that takes pride of place on the socials. Is it the same for the books we show off?

I’ve lost count of how many Normal People covers I’ve seen, with good reason, as there’s no denying it’s the current book du jour. But, I haven’t seen a single nod to Harry Potter even though I know it’s the comfort read for an entire generation of kids who grew up waiting for their letter from Hogwarts.

This begs the question; what is the set of criteria that makes a book flex worthy on social media? From what my iPhone tells me is a 12 per cent increase in screen time last week, I’ve discerned four main criteria that deem a book worthy of a social media brag.

An aesthetically pleasing cover

Although we’ve been raised not to judge a book by its cover, what other option do you have in a 15-second video? Not that long ago, it-girl (or guy) status was cemented by the signature zesty orange of a Penguin paperback poking from a handbag or resting beside an iced latte. Now, the standards are higher and if your volume of choice doesn’t feature a stylised illustration and a bold sans serif font it simply just won’t cut it.

A place in a celebrity book club

As mentioned, there’s no shortage of celebrity book clubs to choose from and it’s likely someone you already follow on Instagram has one. Like the fashion sense of your older sister’s stylish friend, it’s a recommendation you needn’t question. If it’s good enough for Emma Roberts, it’s good enough for me and my 500 followers.

A TV adaptation

The “I read the book before the movie” cliche has been replaced by bragging that “I read the book before the Netflix series”. If you’re after clout in the form of clapping reacts or story replies asking “Is it as good as the show?” then look no further. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, despite being originally published in 1985, shot to notoriety in 2017 when American streaming service Hulu created the TV adaptation and as a result, has spent the tail end of the last decade as a social media staple.

A celebrity author

This is especially useful for cooking books because, to be honest, I’m not interested in Sunday roast unless it’s the same one Antoni from Queer Eye serves up to the Fab Five and Bruley, the Frenchie. Memoirs and autobiographies are also a popular choice, with extra points for any mention of the term ‘girl boss’.

These criteria are a generalisation, and I’m sure there are plenty of people posting pictures of a paperback they’re simply excited to read. However, it can’t be denied that novels are no longer just an aesthetic prop in a content creator’s tool belt. The book brag seems to have cemented itself into the Instagram hall of fame, alongside trends such as the 10-year challenge or sharing your votes for Triple J’s Hottest 100.

Only time will tell if books will continue to prevail on social media feeds in lieu of pricey purchases and lavish holidays. Perhaps, the humbling nature of 2020 will reframe our perception of what’s considered worthy of sharing on social platforms.

The world might just be a better place if more people aspire to work their way through their reading list instead of upgrading their car. Regardless of what the future holds, I’m off to colour code my bookcase.

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