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Every few weeks, it seems, someone makes another comment about how nuance on the internet is dead. I’m just humming along, minding my own business, and suddenly, I stumble into another conversation about social media and the death of real conversation about books. Over and over again, I am told that these platforms aren’t made for complicated discourse and that if I want to think critically and thoughtfully about books, I should absolutely not, under no circumstances, forget it, pick up my phone and start scrolling.
I get it. It is absolutely true that corporations like Meta and…whatever that thing that used to be Twitter is (I don’t know, I was never there to begin with) are interested in profit and profit only. It is absolutely true that social media is designed to pull us in. It isn’t a platform set up for deep connection and thoughtful conversation. Of course it’s full of people talking nonsense. Of course it’s full of 15-second videos that reduce messy books to their most basic elements. Of course it’s full of posturing and vitriol and people being cruel and hot takes that are really just thoughtless takes.
But these are not the only things the bookish internet is full of, and while I understand the desire to write off the whole project as “not the place to go for nuanced conversations about books,” this simplification is a) wrong and b) a kind of gatekeeping that I am not interested in participating in.
There are many things I love about Bookstagram. One of them is that it’s actually quite accessible to a lot of people. You don’t have to be someone to start an account and share your opinions. You don’t need to go through a pitch process to write a mini-essay about whatever it is you’re passionate about. You don’t need a publication’s approval. Of course this means there are people spewing hate (not that people don’t spew hate in plenty of respected publications), but it also means that people who have too often been barred from mainstream media — young people, disabled people, queer and trans folks, people who don’t write/read/process information in ways considered “acceptable” — can speak and be heard.
I don’t mean to imply that a space like Bookstagram is a stand-in for other kinds of bookish media or that we shouldn’t continue to push for more justice in publishing and journalism. I’m not saying, “We have Bookstagram, so who cares how many transphobic op-eds The New York Times runs!” Bookstagram, obviously, isn’t perfect. But it is not, like some people keep insisting, without nuance. It is not without depth. It is not the same five white women shouting about the same three bestselling books. I am so fed up with this “woe is me, social media is so toxic” attitude — again, not because I don’t understand that, yes, social media is toxic, but because it undermines the incredible scholarship that I encounter almost daily on Bookstagram.
When I’m looking for nuanced conversations about books, I go to Bookstagram. It’s one of the very few places where I still encounter books I’ve never heard of. The people I have met there challenge me deeply in the most uncomfortable and wonderful ways. I have read reviews on Bookstagram that are little works of art. Reviews that have completely changed how I think about a particular book. Reviews that teach me new things about myself and the world. The conversations I have on Bookstagram, in comments sections and DMs, are the richest and most exciting book-related conversations I am having anywhere in my life.
If you’re not convinced, stay with me. Have you read any of Akilah aka Kiki’s writing on Bookstagram? She’s a Jamaican beta reader and literary critic who regularly shares her brilliance with us in the form of book reviews and other related writing. Unnuanced, it is not.
Her series of posts on Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is a must-read. Don’t go into this series expecting to spend a few moments idly reading on your phone. Approach it as what it is: scholarship.
Traci of The Stacks has a whole bookish podcast, but she’s also very active on Bookstagram, and she regularly starts conversations that completely shake me up in the best way. Earlier this year, she shared some of her thoughts about negative and critical reviews, which led to one of the best public conversations about the topic I’ve witnessed in a while.
Earlier this year, @earnestbooknotes and I had a conversation in the comments of her review of The New Life by Tom Crewe that helped me untangle some of my very complicated feelings about it. Another one of my favorite people on the Bookstagram, Charlott Schönwetter, posted some very nuanced thoughts a few weeks ago about queer media in Camille Kellogg’s romance Just As You Are that not only resonated with me but got me thinking about queer media and queer romance in different ways.
In the past few months, on Bookstagram, I have read Amber’s nuanced thoughts about translation. I have learned about countless poetry collections from indie presses thanks to Surabhi’s amazing, beautifully written, and thoughtful reviews. I got to learn a little bit about Bessie Head, through her letters, thanks to Sreddy. Kristin always writes nuanced, often personal, and always insightful reviews, but recently, she posted some critical thoughts about Biography of X by Catherine Lacey that I haven’t seen mentioned in any reviews in mainstream publications (not that I’ve been looking).
And all of this is just a taste of some of the nuance I have encountered — in posts with captions that spill into the comments, in comments, in conversations via stories and DMs — in my little corner of Bookstagram this year. Yes, social media is toxic, and its toxicity has very real consequences, and the corporations don’t care about us, and there are conversations it is hard to have on the internet. Yes. And one of the neatest things about nuance is that it allows for many things — contradictory things! — to be true at once. Don’t write off a place like Bookstagram as devoid of deep thinking until you’ve spent a little time in its most beautiful, most complicated corners.