Are You an Influencer? The Kim Kardashians of Book Reviewers

I did not know who celebrity influencer Kim Kardashian was until I read the Style section of The New York Times this weekend. It seems that everything she wears or uses, from Barefoot Dreams blankets ($180) to Spanx shapewear, is sought by her excitable fans. I, too, wanted the soft-as-silk Barefoot Dreams blanket, until I realized it is just polyester!

And so I began to wonder: who are the Book Influencers? In addition to celebrity influencers Jenna Bush and Rhys Witherspoon, bibliophiles and amateur reviewers have a loud voice.

In my case, professional critics still have the most influence. Hence, I am reading a disturbing Syrian novel by Dima Wannous, The Frightened Ones, about two damaged people who meet at a psychiatrist’s office. This beautifully-written, spare novel about living in hell during the Syrian revolution is so depressing I mete out only a few pages a day. I do recommend it, but I will not review it.

The age of criticism is dead, or so they say, and certainly critics vie for assignments of fewer reviews squashed into a reduced number of pages. Perhaps blogs, Bookstagram, and Booktube have a greater influence on readers these days, though it may be a question of the kind of reader.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, I loved the raw enthusiasm of blogging: my personal blogosphere was one big tea party of courteous postings on Monica Dickens’ One Pair of Hands and E. M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady books. Bloggers filled a gap: they “reviewed” Viragos, Persephones, and other small-press reprints, books which were seldom noted in professional publications. And, not surprisingly, some of our own favorite out-of-print books eventually were rediscovered. I was ahead of the curve with Nancy Hale, whose books I discovered in 2011 after reading one of her stories in a New Yorker anthology. The Library of America recently published her selected stories, and I hope they will reissue her charming memoirs, A New England Girlhood and The Life in the Studio, and her best novel, Dear Beast. Thank God for Library of America!

Pictures mean more than words these days, I fear. It is a brutish, snarling, semi-literate Climate Change age: our brains are literally shrinking, according to Scientific American. Perhaps this explains the weird appeal of picture-oriented social media. Bookstagram/Instagram consists of photos of books, sometimes raw snapshots, others almost of professional quality, arranged against backdrops of lace, flowers, and teacups, or simply dropped on the floor. These pictures may be saying: I love this book! but the captions do not tell us much.

Booktube is even more mystifying. A bibliophile sits unselfconsciously in front of a camera for 30 minutes to an hour, methodically showing you his or her latest book haul, one book at a time, while reading aloud the jacket copy, or, if you’re lucky, saying why he/she wants to read them. These monotonous home movies are badly in need of editing. Nonetheless, I do not underestimate their influence: some Booktube channels have thousands of followers (perhaps hundreds of thousands!).

So here we all are, doing our bit, all for the sake of books.

7 thoughts on “Are You an Influencer? The Kim Kardashians of Book Reviewers

  1. I’m already nostalgic for “old-style” blogs! Didn’t know about Bookstagram or Booktube, and after hearing about them I’m never going there! I have, however, discovered VERY cheap copies of A New England Girlhood and The Life in the Studio, so thanks to you, I will be getting to enjoy Nancy Hale.

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    1. Oh, you will love the memoirs! And, yes, the old-fashioned blog is preferable to the “picture” social media, but there is a huge audience for the book hauls and the photos of books and cats (the latter IS fun). A different time…

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  2. I’d never heard of Bookstagram or Booktube, and now that I have, I’ll just try to stay away from them.
    That said, there are also probably anti-influencers. There are critics whose judgment I rely on as being almost the opposite of mine – what they recommend, I’ll stay away from; what they dislike I look for.

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    1. Yes, there are a few critics I avoid because “their taste must be in their mouth,” as a wicked friend used to say. And so I am weeping over a tragic, probably important Syrian novel – but it is really too much for me!

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  3. Those photos on IG puzzle me. And I’m not convinced that anyone has time to read once they’ve gone to all that trouble. It’s time-consuming just snapping a shot with a cup of tea and my book on a clear space on the table. LOL

    That novel sounds like quite an experience. I’ve had some very difficult reads in my stack in recent months, too, on the theme of climate change. Some of them have fallen into the only-a-few-pages-at-a-time space for me too. It’s strange, but it works, doesn’t it.

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    1. A is picture is worth 1,000 words, they say. But there aren’t enough words on Instagram to make the experience meaningful! I finished my book, thank god. So good, so grueling.

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