After #Bookstagram

How an online community shifted the way I read.

After #Bookstagram

I joined #Bookstagram almost five years ago. If this is the first time you’ve seen that word — Bookstagram — it’s a hashtag that connects millions of readers on Instagram. These readers populate the hashtag with beautiful photos of everything from book stacks and shots of indie bookstores to pics of novels perched alongside delicious-looking adult beverages.

As a reader, I can scroll through #Bookstagram on any given day and use it to escape from the real world.

But that’s just the superficial side of #Bookstagram. The real heart of the community is found in the images’ captions and in the comments section. Personally, those comments and captions have changed the way I engage with literature so much that I now divide my reading life into “Before #Bookstagram” and “After #Bookstagram.”

Before #Bookstagram, there was no order to what I read. Recommendations would come from friends or co-workers and, in many cases, I didn’t end up enjoying them. It was hard to find books I could connect with or that I ended up loving. Suggestions from Bookstagrammers have happily changed all that.

But fellow readers aren’t the only people who’ve impacted me. Authors and publishers are also part of the #Bookstagram community. A space initially built by readers has become a platform from which publishers and authors can promote books in a quick, efficient, and generally low-cost way.

Publishers may send Bookstagrammers free books in exchange for an honest review, or even partner with readers in hosting a book giveaway. These collaborative relationships can give any book the potential to reach millions of readers.

As a member of this robust community, I can vouch for the many instances #Bookstagram has sold me on books I wouldn’t otherwise read and made me run to my local bookstore in search of that title everyone is posting about!

But along with what I read, “After #Bookstagram” has unfortunately changed the way I read. Although I’m not legally obligated to read every complimentary book I receive, I often push myself to get through as many as possible so I can review them for fellow readers. To be honest, the time I spend enjoying books for their own sake has diminished since becoming part of #Bookstagram.

In a way, reading has turned into a job I don’t get paid for.

Yet I’m still passionate about being part of this community of readers. And so I work to find a balance between reading for pleasure and actively promoting books by authors of color and/or queer authors who don’t enjoy the same level of #Bookstagram buzz as others.

My hope is that the #Bookstagram community will continue to grow and that book lovers will continue to have a space in which to share their love of reading. If you’re interested in joining this community, I’d love to answer your questions in an upcoming column that I’ll call, “Bookstagram? What’s That? Help!”

In the meantime, to end this piece, here are a few novels I discovered and ended up loving thanks to #Bookstagram:

Lupita Aquino — better known as Lupita Reads — is the co-founder and current lead of LIT on H St. Book Club at Solid State Books. She is a passionate reader active in both the local and online book community through her Instagram blog, @Lupita.Reads. You can also catch her tweeting about books over at @lupita_reads.

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